Copyrighted by Lorna Tedder. Originally published in Third Degree Burn.
“So what’s wrong with him?” I ask a female colleague who’s just suggested I have a fling, for lack of a better word for it, with a co-worker of hers.
“Nothing!” she swears to me. The man’s definitely in my age range, extremely attractive, smart, everything in the world going for him. And he’s newly separated.
“If he’s so great, then why is his wife leaving him?” I ask, not quite believing her assessment. “Obviously somebody thinks something’s wrong with him.”
Who knows? Maybe I’ll like whatever his ex didn’t. Maybe she’s right that he’d be a good candidate for a temporary love affair.
“Nothing’s wrong with him. It’s his wife. She’s crazy. I
Hmmm, I’ve heard that before. Everybody seems to have a story about the crazy ex.
Then she points out this prospective love interest to me. And I know him.
Worse. I know his wife. Well. Very well.
I also know why they’ve separated, and it has nothing to do with her “craziness.” It has everything to do with the way he treats her in private. I haven’t seen it myself. But their child has mentioned it to me, in detail. After hearing from the child, I inquired and she—embarrassed—told me what had been going on for years.
“Why would you think she’s crazy?” I ask. “Have you met her?”
Only at holiday parties, I’m told. Work picnics.
“She seemed nice, but you can never tell,” my colleague says with a knowing look.
“Then how do you know she’s crazy?” She scowls at me. “Because she left him.”
Another colleague joins us by now. A guy who nods a lot and tells us about his crazy ex. She was crazy because she didn’t want to be married to him anymore. That was the bottom line. He gives examples of her wanting to have a career when he wanted her to be home and of her finally getting fed up with his insistence that she stay home and have dinner on the table when he arrived at 5:15 p.m. every day. He forgets that I know his ex-wife and that I’ve seen the bruises on her wrists.
This week, I got called a “crazy ex,” too. By a man I’ve seen maybe once in the past ten years and not at all this century. He’s never witnessed what happened in my house, yet he thinks he knows me and what happened in my marriage. Well, of course, he does! He’s one of my ex’s closest friends, though there were many years at the end of our marriage where they rarely heard from each other. I guess our divorce has brought them closer together.
I’ve never liked being around him, not because of his own strangeness but because of his arrogance and his atheism and his insistence that only what he could see was real. I’ve never felt that he was mentally stable, something my ex himself had suggested to me on several occasions.
His thought patterns have frightened me enough in the past that one year at a New Year’s Eve party, I insisted my ex not drive back with him. I was afraid he would crash his car with my ex as his passenger and try to kill them both. Now that may sound crazy, but the things this man said in my presence gave me reason to be afraid. He may have been teasing or not, but he was in a weird mental funk that year and I loved my husband.
Until his attack, I’d forgotten that this man caused a few major arguments in my marriage back in the 1990’s. He may have thought it was great fun to see us mad at each other and not speaking, but it caused several days of intense hurt, at least for me. I was actually glad to find out that my husband hadn’t really said what his friend had reported to me and once I explained why I was upset, I found out my husband’s friend had told him I’d said something equally cruel. Ah, but wasn’t it fun to instigate a marital tiff!
So to be called a “crazy ex” struck me as humorous, coming from him, considering what my ex has told me about this man’s past experiences with psychiatric wards and once trying to throw a chair through a window on the sixth floor of the Government building where we worked at the time. I don’t know if those things were true except that he and my ex were good friends. I always thought the chair through the window was a bit over-the-top because those windows are way too narrow for a chair to fit through. Hiding my ex’s glasses in the freezer…well, that was classic, I’ll admit. Or maybe it was a wallet that was hidden in the freezer. He was always doing little things like that when he was angry at my ex and my ex would be late for work as a result.
On the other hand, I do understand exactly what he’s doing when he calls me a lunatic, and I’d want my friends to be like that, too. Defensive. Protective. I think real friends do overlook the faults of a friend, especially if that friend’s relationship is breaking up and they’re emotionally hurting. They take on the armor for their friends when their friends can’t for whatever reason. That I can forgive.
What I can’t forgive is calling me crazy in front of my children. They, unlike him, have been present for this whole century. They’ve seen everything. Not hearsay, but firsthand. They’ve seen both sides to the story, and they’ve seen their own
side. It would be easy for strangers to them to assume they’re little twits who know nothing and can be that influenced by me to that extent, but they’re teenagers and they are their own persons with their own opinions—strong ones—and they know the truth of what’s happened in the past and what’s happening now without any help from anyone else.
They know about my books, my special projects, and my private life. When I’m called a slut, they know I’m not. They know how many men have darkened my doorways, who they are, when they were here, and if they’re welcome back. When it’s alleged I’ve been involved with other men and that led to my divorce, they know that’s untrue as well. They know because they’ve been here all along. They’ve seen everything.
I never said my ex was crazy. Ever. He wasn’t crazy; he was manipulative. And as he admitted to me after I announced I was leaving, he knew just how much hope to dangle in front of me to keep me around. He was very good at it and for a very long time. Maybe he can overcome it, but it won’t be with me. And especially not when his friends question my sanity and motives in front of our children.
“So can I try to fix you up with him?” my colleague asks about her hot prospect.
I shake my head. Next time I’ll think twice when someone refers to someone else’s ex as crazy.