Blissful, happy, ignorant years went by, and eventually Andy and I grew apart. We finished our courses at the community college; she moved back home to Texas and I chose to continue my studies at a local bible college. I will always remember our time together, our conversations ranging from the deep philosophical to the silly or mundane. We walked all over town discovering the local coffee scene or the art galleries in the north end of downtown Columbus Ohio. We were as close as friends could possibly be. My favorite memory by far, November 1992, Andy, her 3 year old daughter, and me closely huddled together on the couch drinking cheap Mexican wine from a paper cup watching presidential election results on television.
I met my wife, Amy, on the first day of bible school. She walked through the double doors wearing a short black skirt, combat boots and the most amazing red hair I had ever seen. I knew right then that she was someone I needed to meet. We occasionally spoke in passing over the next two years. I couldn't ever remember her name, so she was always known to me as “that girl from Colorado.” During the two years of intensive bible study I dated very little. I wanted to focus on my studies. I also had a full time job so that I wouldn't have to borrow any money to pay for school. We didn't start dating until after almost a year after graduation. Three months later we were married. It was positively the best day of my life so far. I still don't understand why she chose a slob like me.
Out first years of marriage, Amy and I moved around frequently, wasting no time to leave the haze and smog of central Ohio. I wanted to leave my family behind and find a new identity outside the projections and expectations of others. I hoped it would be new opportunity to become someone else. We sold everything we owned except for a few books and some dishes and made our way west toward our new destiny in Las Vegas, Nevada. Amy found a good job as a property manager. I worked for a small printing company in front of the laminating presses. It was my dream to start a church near the casinos and change the city from “Sin City, to Sinless City.”
I worked to build a congregation and find a meeting place. I dreamt of one day finding success as a televangelist like I saw on tv or my home church in Ohio. I think the primary reason this dream died is that I hate Christians. I find them to be untrustworthy, hypocritical liars, using the bible a knife to stab and steal from others. At the time it really confused me as to why I felt this way. To this day I still get very nervous and feel unsafe around all Christians. After a few months the allure of the bright lights and beautiful architecture of Las Vegas Blvd was too much to resist. The first dollar was gambled, and like any addictive personality, that first dollar was only the beginning. I wanted to know more about what the city had to offer.
I met my mistress on a cold rainy night, and though we had spent many hours together communicating through a computer modem, up until then we had never personally met. I walked through the dingy black doors into a strangely familiar heavy erotic atmosphere of a gentleman's club that in flashing red and blue neon advertised “no cover, all nude.”
It was a place long past its heyday. Its colorful balloon shaped light fixtures covered in many years worth of grey dust and grime. The torn red vinyl booths along the back wall were all occupied with businessmen or drug dealers; I really couldn't tell which in the dim lighting. I found an open table near the stage. As the song came to an end a female figure disappears behind a corner. In the DJ booth near the entrance a bored sounding voice booms, “up next, Cheyenne! on the main stage for three songs! Make sure you get your dollar bills out. Give it up for ummmmm, Cheyenne!” The dirty red curtains parted as Def leppard played on the loud speakers.
She was just as beautiful and exotic as I had imagined, yet a little older than I had hoped. I should have been happy to finally meet her, yet I couldn't help but feel strangely ambivalent. Part of me felt shame and embarrassment. The other part, aroused and at home. I eventually left confused, vowing never to do that again. It was too late, I was hooked and although I promised never to enter a strip club again, I broke that promise many times over.
Soon after that night we packed our belongings and moved back to Colorado. I felt like a failure, instead of changing the city for good by planting a church, the city changed me for bad, planting its talons deep into my very being. I hoped to reinvent myself, to be the person others expected me to be, the person free from the darkness inside me. As the last box was unpacked in our 7th floor apartment in Denver, the me I was hoping to leave behind was still there. I tried my best to stay away from visiting my mistress personally. I made sure our relationship was kept fresh through the miracles of Google search.
I tried to give her up. My wife was devastated and wanted to leave me. I begged that I would be better. My wife’s job transferred us to Colorado Springs. I acted like things were better. I tried to believe things were better. Eventually, we finally decided to go to marriage counseling. Amy didn’t know the depths of my addiction, and I didn’t want her to know. We met with a counselor and after the first session, he decided we needed individual counseling. During one of our sessions, he asked me if I had ever been sexually abused. I was confused by this question. Why would he think that? Of course I had never been sexually abused. How absurd! Little did I know that I was displaying the classic signs of an abused person.
Counseling helped for awhile. Amy felt satisfied that I was on the mend. I did try, but my mistress’s enticing voice was too great to ignore. I kept it hidden for a long time, but then Amy would find evidence of my infidelity. I would apologize and promise to do better. I don’t know why she stayed with me. We went through counseling again. I kept trying.
Amy wanted a baby. She had wanted a baby since the day we got married. I didn’t want anything to do with it. I went through the motions, but I was afraid to be a father. Why would any child want to be raised by me? I felt like it would never work. Amy’s desire to be a mom just would not go away. I thought about it and knew this was an area in which I could make her happy.
After nearly ten years of marriage and infertility, we decided to become foster parents and ultimately adopted our first child, Zoe, in September 2006. After that, I left the working world to devote full time efforts to be a parent and make certain all of Zoe’s medical and visitation appointments were kept. When we got Zoe, I was completely overcome with joy. I didn’t know joy existed on that level. Nothing else mattered but this precious life in my arms, wholly innocent, wholly dependent upon me. This was my chance to actually be better--for her.
I still struggled. I was more conflicted than ever. I didn’t want to do the things I was doing, and I hated myself. Zoe didn’t know. Amy didn’t know. But, I did.
Three years later, after a difficult pregnancy, our son Liam was born. It was at this point in my life where my mood became more and more sullen. I chose to become increasingly isolated. I didn’t enjoy my wife’s pregnancy, of course, neither did she. She was sick the whole time and the only wage earner in our home. She had stress at her job and she had to deal with me and a toddler. I didn't think about any of that. I just knew that I was unhappy and life was conspiring to be more difficult for me.
While giving birth, my wife nearly died three times from preeclampsia, infections, and toxic shock. My son was born premature and spent a month in the intensive care unit. He refused to nurse or take a bottle; eventually the doctors placed a tube in his nose, he received his nutrition that way until he grew big enough to learn how to take a bottle. What should have been one of the best days of my life turned into a nightmare that wouldn’t end.
I’ll never forget, I had just finished seeing Amy get moved from the emergency room into the cardiac unit, wires taped to her forehead, chest and a cuff on her arm to monitor her escalating blood pressure. She had just fallen asleep, I snuck away to see if my son was ok and give him his 2am feeding. With the bottle successfully drained through his feeding tube, I staggered away to make sure Amy was still ok. The nurse on duty came up to me, “Joel, when was the last time you slept?” she asked.
“A couple days ago.” I replied
“You are not going anywhere.” she said “You need to sleep or you aren't going to do anybody good.”
“I can’t, I need to check on my wife. She is in another part of the hospital connected to all sorts of wires. I am afraid she will die if I am not there.”
The nurse forcefully took me by the arm and put me into an empty room next to the NICU. “You are not going anywhere until you get at least 3 hours of sleep.” Reluctantly, I complied, taking comfort that my newborn son was just a few feet away.
The nightmare at the hospital ended in late October. Finally my divided family was reunited under the same roof. Liam was still on oxygen and turned blue with any significant elevation change. Amy was on heavy medications to battle infections and high blood pressure due to a swollen heart caused by preeclampsia.
The reality of one or both of them dying was a fear that I couldn't deal with. I knew if after all these years struggling with infertility, a hard pregnancy, and both my wife and son in separate intensive care units of the same hospital, death was something that would push me past the point of no return. I would seek out my own death leaving my 3 year old daughter behind.
I felt the only way to keep everything under control was to keep everyone close at home. I felt nothing bad could happen if we were all in one place, home. I feared that only bad things occurred outside and that if I could keep everyone close, Everything would be ok.
Thankfully, time heals, Liam and Amy strengthened. Amy went back to work, Liam began breathing on his own. Life returned to an expected normal. Feedings, Sesame Street and naps. Naptime was “daddy’s special alone time.” I could put the world away and live in an online fantasy of eroticism and sex. A place where there was no pain or suffering and everybody loved each other.
It was in that world of my own making where I wanted to live. There was nothing in the real world that could ever compare. The more difficult reality became, the more I retreated into my made up world. ( I wish, I wish, I wish, that I could turn back time and not create that world.)
There came a point just before Emotional Hostage that the realities flipped. My made up world became more real than the real world.
My longing to be only in the fantasy caused my behavior to become less than human. I was full of rage, mean, spiteful, verbally abusive. (FUCK! I regret this. my only wish is that, you, my treasured reader will not go down my path or find inspiration to pull away before its too late.To all those who were offended by my behavior during this time I sincerly appologise. I am not this person anymore.) Amy was right. I was holding her emotionally hostage. I was holding myself emotionally hostage. I was wrapped up in in fear and rage--a blanket so cold and tight that the only thing left to do is scream and lash out to try to get free. I couldn’t even see that the more I lashed out, the tighter I was bound. I could not see that I was losing my family. I was losing everything. I was losing me.
Something had to change. I didn’t know that the secrets that had protected me for so many years were what I was fighting against. All that is hidden becomes known.