Chapter 7

Fuck You, I Live Here

My Grandma Hattie died on Christmas Eve in 2006, and her absence from the world knocked the wind out of me like I’d been socked in the gut with a duffel bag full of bricks. Technically, she was my step-grandmother, but I’d loved her fiercely since I was a little kid, when she married my widower grandpa. We lived far away from my grandparents, so visiting her was how we spent lots of family vacations. 

On the first day of school my fourth-grade year when we were asked to report on our summer vacations, I was telling my classmates about Gramma. How she made spaghetti for dinner. How she bought pull-apart cinnamon bread from a corner grocer so close to her house you could walk to it, how she baked the best zucchini bread in the world, and how she had rhubarb growing right in her back yard. I went on about how she taught me to do Cryptoquip puzzles in the daily newspaper, then shared how she let me put pink plastic rollers in her silvery hair while we watched a Cubs game on TV one night. 

Most of my contemporaries were telling the class about their trips to Disney World. I always felt sorry for them.

Anyway, the Christmas she died, I was between the fall and spring semester of my junior year at Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis (IUPUI). My only obligation until after the new year was to my two very part-time jobs—office manager at a psychiatrist’s clinic on Fridays, and editorial assistant at The Saturday Evening Post on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I arranged my work schedule around the two-day trip to Freeport, Illinois to attend her funeral and be with my family, but I didn’t tell anyone at either job why I altered my schedule. I’d been feeling more reclusive, wanting to keep everything about my private live private.

“You don’t have to go with me for the funeral,” I told Rodney while filling a small carry on with clothes, a hair dryer, travel size toiletries, and a make up bag. “You barely knew her, and besides you shouldn’t ask your boss for more time off right now. We still have at least three sessions with Pastor Tim next month.” It was all true, but there was another reason I didn’t want Rodney to go with me on the road trip: I didn’t want him to go with me anywhere.

One of the many, many downsides to evaluating every word that slithered past my lying husband’s forked tongue was that judgment became a compulsion for me. Witnessing how often he lied, and how often he did it in my presence, somehow resulted in my developing anthropophobic tendencies. Rodney lied to my boss and coworkers at the Christmas party. He lied to new friends I’d made at church. He lied to my best friend Liz when she came over to study. And whether he was telling his brother-in-law about the time he had to return the Fossil watch he hadn’t actually purchased or he was telling the girl behind the deli counter how much he enjoyed a movie he had never seen, my reaction was always visceral. My eyes darted shiftily to see who else knew I was abetting a dude who told bald-faced lies for absolutely no reason.

I hated being party to the deception and resented him for making me a fool. Because I was the one with the conscience, I was the one who bore the shame of his lies. Shame was a daily mantle I wore, whether I was around when he told a lie or not. I was always wondering what shit he was making up when I wasn’t there, what story I was going to have to pretend I already knew about.

To this day, I still feel a little guilty that I never called him out while he was lying to someone. Still, I am pretty sure that I was Rodney’s tell. When people saw my cheeks flush and my gaze drop to my shoes—which was pretty much any time his mouth was moving—they had to know. Had to. “People aren’t stupid,” I told him once hoping fear of judgment would get him to lie less, seeing how his image meant more to him than anything else in the world. “They all know you’re full of shit. They’re just too nice to call you a phony.” Unfortunately, that strategy had zero effect. Nothing I ever said, not even the harshest truth, could pierce the veil of lies he told to himself about himself.

“I’ll be damned if he’s going to lie to my family at Gramma’s funeral,” I muttered to no one, zipping my suitcase.

It turned out driving north on the interstate with nothing to see but prairie grass, wind turbines, and sky for miles and miles gave me time to lean into my grief and forget I married a sociopath. I reminisced about Gramma. About how I used to tease her saying, “You’ve got the brownest eyes, you must be an Ackerman!” She once told me she hated people saying that to her growing up, so naturally I never let it go. I thought about how I used to trace the veins on the backs of her softly aged hands. I thought about how scared she must have been to get lost in her own hometown driving home from the bank one day. It turned out she’d had a brain tumor—a coincidental plight I wouldn’t learn I shared with her for another decade.

By the time Gramma’s funeral was over and I was back on the road to Indianapolis, I was out of tears. The funeral home turned out to be a great safe space for weeping over everything, not just death. When I’d finished crying for Gramma, I cried about all things Rodney, and finally I cried from sheer exhaustion. I was tired of working two jobs, going to school full-time, doing all the cleaning and cooking, all the emotional labor, and then trying to salvage a marriage with a man I couldn’t stand. I was beginning to understand that the hate and resentment I harbored for Rodney was disabling me.

But diligent to a fault, I decided I to check in with him. I called Rodney from an I-39 gas station about a quarter mile from Bloomington-Normal to let him know how much longer I would be. He didn’t pick up, so I left him a voice mail. “I’ll probably be home about…seven o’clock?” I said, pausing briefly to calculate how many hours I still had on the road plus account for the time difference. “Let’s just get dinner at Qdoba tonight. I’m not going to feel like cooking. See you in a bit.” I grabbed a caffeinated beverage and a bag of pretzels from the convenience store before getting back on the road. I wasn’t hungry, still full up on grief and all, but I snacked out of habit to keep me alert.

Rolling into the driveway about three hours later, I pushed the button on the garage door opener. Rodney’s truck wasn’t inside. No big deal, but I was starving and unwilling to sit even another minute behind the wheel. I was also too drained to endure having pizza delivered to the condo no delivery driver on earth could find. Maybe Rodney was at the library or something and could stop at the Qdoba near campus on his way home. I texted him.

“Just got home. So hungry. Where are you?”

He texted back, “Be there in 20.”

I noticed the time stamp on my text was just a little after 6 p.m., much earlier than I thought I’d be home. I wrinkled my forehead trying to check my math. How did I get home so early? I chalked it up to bad math. I was an English major after all.

Rodney’s truck eventually rumbled into the driveway. I was loitering in the yard with Taubensee. He’d already done his business and was rooting around the lawn, sticking his nose down the chipmunks’ tunnel and sniffing tree trunks for pee-mail from the neighbor’s dog. Rodney slammed his truck door, and Taub and I both turned to look.

“What are you doing here?” he snarled, loud enough for anyone on the block to hear.

“Fuck you, I live here,” I snapped. I was never in a mood for Rodney’s bullshit, but I was seriously not in the mood just then. I didn’t care who heard us fighting.

“You’re an hour early,” he said.

Before I had a chance to say, “So?” something dawned on me. He thought I’d intentionally arrived home an hour earlier than I’d told him I would. It was a nefarious plot. Entrapment.

He slung his messenger bag over his shoulder in a huff and said, “You have to learn to trust me, you know.”

“Actually, I don’t,” I said, walking over to examine an envelope that had fallen out of his bag. “I don’t have to trust you any more than you have to tell the truth.” He hadn’t realized he’d dropped anything. “So where were you?” I held the envelope inches from his face. It was addressed simply to “Rodney” in a feminine, flowing script and there was a smiley face drawn inside the “O”. He reached for it, but I drew it back quickly and removed the card inside. It was from Lucy. I looked again at his unzipped bag and noticed a red and green box poking out of the center pocket. “You exchanged Christmas gifts with her while I was at my grandmother’s funeral?” I might have cried if I was hydrated enough to produce tears. “You’re shameless.”

“It was better than having to spend Christmas Day with you.” I was surprised he didn’t stick his tongue out at me after he said it. He landed jabs like a playground bully. No, worse than a playground bully. 

Taub pulled me as a squirrel crossed at the end of the drive, but I maintained my ground. “You are the world’s most inept cheater. I mean, you wear indiscretion like a clown wears shoes. You can’t even bother to zip your bag to secure the evidence?”

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