By the time I met Jack when I was 24, I had already been self-diagnosed with chronic insecurity. There was no need to Google the disorder for confirmation. After a couple of brutal dating years in NYC, I was floundering in the equally brutal Los Angeles where being 7 pounds overweight made me feel like I did at 13 – chubby and ugly. While I had shed my braces and most of my zits since then, I was still just as socially handicapped. This is the only reason I can think of that explains the events that follow.
On the evening in question when it all began, I had been sitting by myself for hours in a bar when all of a sudden I saw a man walk across the room and a shiver raced down my spine.
Since most of my romantic intel came from movies rather than actual life, a shiver, I was led to believe, meant that “he’s the one” and so I was determined to make Jack mine. I’m willing to bet, however, that if I went back to that night in that bar, I would see that I was sitting underneath the air conditioning vent.
With unknown determination inspired by the allegedly destined shiver, I strode over to the other side of the bar to spy Jack talking with a guy. He could do much better, I decided. Not necessarily with me, just in general. I thought he was so handsome and he just looked like a nice guy, someone I wanted to talk to. I later learned that people could be just as deceptive as looks.
I decided to hover in Jack’s general area in case he searched the room for someone other than the guy he was talking to – oops – now making out with. I don’t know what came over me but I was convinced that I still had a chance.
And then my chance came. Jack came up for air and stared right into my eyes. Forget the shiver, my knees wobbled. I don’t know what he said to extricate his tongue from the situation but before I knew it we were talking. In his bed.
By the time our much less tawdry second date ended, I was falling fast. Here’s what I knew about Jack: he was 30, grew up in Minnesota, had a significant ex who still lived with him, a dog named Ralph, and he was a screenwriter who wrote under a pseudonym. The only thing I know now to have been true is that he had a dog.
Shortly after Jack and I started dating, I was scheduled to fly home for July 4th. Just a couple of days before my trip, Jack suggested that he might be able to come with me. I gathered by then that he was financially well off but even so I was not comfortable with him spending nearly $1000 for a last minute ticket to New York. So while I was screaming with excitement inside, I played it cool on the outside because I couldn’t encourage him to spend such a sum. Jack didn’t come after all because, as he put it, I didn’t exude enough enthusiasm. He managed to make me feel horribly guilty for not insisting that he spend his money. He was revealing himself to be a formidable talent.
I noted early on that Jack did not carry a wallet with him; he kept his money haphazardly folded in his pockets and so bills would often fall to the floor when he paid for things. I wanted to get him a gift so a money clip seemed like an obvious choice. Jack later told me that it made him suspect that I was only interested in his money. Damn, I should’ve been more discreet.
One day Jack invited me to go to Brazil with him. I didn’t see that coming. A movie based on one of his scripts was to be filmed there so he would be spending time on the set. Did I want to join him? I actually didn’t know. I had just been unexpectedly laid off from a temp gig (go figure) and should’ve been looking for a new job, not travelling. He did offer to pay for my airfare but I wasn’t comfortable with that; he might start to think I was only interested in him for his money.
I would think about it. We would talk.
And then, like Dexy’s Midnight Runners, he disappeared from my life. Days went by without any word from him. Since he didn’t return my calls and since I didn’t have a computer at the time, I wrote a letter and left it in his mailbox begging him to explain what happened. No reply. The guy I was in love with went radio silent and I couldn’t make sense of it. He clearly lost interest in me but it would’ve been nice if he had the nerve to tell me so. Since he didn’t, I spent way too much time confusedly wondering what happened.
I left one last pleading letter in his mailbox and by the time I got home there was a voice mail message from him. Damn it, I just missed his call. He had been in Atlanta visiting friends and was at the airport there about to board his flight to Brazil. Huh? He said that he would be gone for a few months so perhaps it was best that we stop seeing each other.
I was devastated. Crushed. The little voice inside my head did not, at that time, point out that he only lived 10 minutes away. It did not tell me that he called after weeks of silence at precisely the same time I was at his house dropping off a letter. No, at that time, my little voice was comatose because if it had been paying attention I would’ve realized that I was perhaps dealing with a compulsive liar. Instead, I was dealing with buckets of KFC and red wine chasers.
Time passed and since I didn’t meet anyone else who made me shiver or wobble, I continued to think of Jack. I cannot explain why I would think fondly of someone who ditched me. Some are fools in love; I was a schmuck. Nearly a year and a half after he allegedly left me for Brazil, I made the call I never should have made. We didn’t talk about what happened, we just acknowledged that we both missed one another. So, just like that, Jack was back and I was so grateful (/pathetic).
Everything was back to “normal” which still felt slightly dysfunctional. There continued to be new and familiar red flags waving every which way but I was apparently colorblind. A few months after our renewed ties, Jack announced that he would be taking an extended vacation to Europe. Of course. There was no talk this time of my joining him.
While our transatlantic communications got off to a good start, my e-mails began to go unanswered. Then he wrote about how hurt he was that I stopped writing to him altogether which made no sense because I was writing to him.
In his e-mails, he had told me of a French millionaire named Christophe. I had no idea how they met but suddenly Jack was staying on his yacht in the south of France. Christophe, he explained, was in love with him but he assured me that I had nothing to worry about. Although Christophe looked like Josh Hartnett, Jack loved me.
E-mails grew increasingly frustrating until it all became crystal meth clear – Jack discovered that Christophe was breaking into his computer and deleting my e-mails in order to keep us apart. I could not believe it, who does that?! While it was exciting to find myself with my very own arch-nemesis, I suspected that I would be at a disadvantage in this soap opera that was now my life.
I insisted that Jack get off that yacht at once. He could not. It would be rude, he argued.
Christophe, he explained, was planning a birthday celebration for Jack’s mother. He was to fly her and all of her friends and family from the U.S. to France where they would have a party. It would be too impolite to get off his yacht while birthday preparations were being made.
I broke up with Jack over e-mail since phoning was conveniently never an option. I was confident that Christophe would let this particular e-mail get through. Jack’s hurt reply came as he was flying into LA on Christophe’s private jet. He was on his way home and wanted to surprise me. I was more surprised to learn that you could e-mail from a plane.
When Jack and I met to talk, it had been several weeks since I had last seen him and he looked more handsome than ever. He was hurt and angry that I broke up with him so cruelly over e-mail. I explained how I could not be in a relationship with a man who was living with another man trying to break us up. Nevertheless, I wanted Jack back. I also cheated when I played Monopoly by myself as a kid so that I wouldn’t lose; some things are inexplicable.
However, in an unexpected twist, Jack was now off limits. When I broke up with him, I unwittingly threw him into the arms of Christophe. I didn’t realize I had the strength. It was too late; they were heading back to Europe and he couldn’t hurt Christophe now. Great. I was trapped in a sordid love triangle and my competition was a Josh Hartnett looking French millionaire with a yacht and jet. I had a Saturn.
Nevertheless, I kissed Jack goodnight as we parted ways and it took him several seconds to pull back. He felt guilty; he was cheating on Christophe. I felt sick.
It was my therapist who first suggested that Jack might be manipulating me, that some of this might not even be happening. “No way,” I shot back. But then I must’ve suspected it possible because I started to imagine myself breaking into his e-mail account to learn the truth. I had no hacking experience but TV characters across primetime made it look easy. I don’t know if “hacking” is the right word since I guessed Jack’s password on my first try; it was his dog’s name. At least I was not the only schmuck in this farce.
From the very first e-mails my stomach dropped all the way to the floor below mine. Jack was not in Europe with Christophe, he was at the Farmer’s Market on Fairfax with his brother. Christophe was not planning some fancy birthday celebration for Jack’s mom in France. Jack was planning a surprise party for her in Minneapolis. In fact, there was no mention of Christophe at all. It all seemed to be a big, obese lie – Christophe, Europe, the yacht, the love triangle and probably Brazil, the screenwriting career and most everything else he ever told me.
As my mind went dizzy from trying to process this revelation, Jack signed into his IM account which meant that he was logged into his e-mail. I ducked. Could he see me? I panicked, raced to mark his e-mails as “unread”, and logged out in a sweat.
I had no clue what to do or how to react. I was mostly furious, incredibly confused and suddenly craving fried chicken. I wanted to confront him so badly, to knock him down with a rapid-fire speech that only an Aaron Sorkin character could deliver. But I was afraid that I would have been forced to admit to reading his e-mails. I wasn’t sure if I had committed a crime or not and he all of a sudden struck me as someone who would send me to jail if he could.
So I said nothing and just let him go. Let it go.
I wondered to myself why Jack went through all that trouble and over 10 years later I still haven’t any idea. Whatever the reason, he happened and I let him happen. The one positive outcome is that I developed a talent for recognizing liars and a knack for Googling people’s backgrounds.
When I finally met Luc, I knew that I could trust him. For starters, his tongue wasn’t down someone else’s throat when he said “bonjour.”