This entry is part of a series called Craigslist Confessional. Writer Helena Bala has been meeting people via Craigslist and documenting their stories for nearly two years. Each story is written as it was told to her. Bala says that by listening to their stories, she hopes to bear witness to her subjects’ lives, providing them with an outlet, a judgment-free ear, and a sense of catharsis. By sharing them, she hopes to facilitate acceptance and understanding of issues that are seldom publicly discussed, at the risk of fear, stigma, and ostracism. Read more here. Names and locations have been changed to protect her subjects’ anonymity.
Steve, 50s, Northeast US
My wife and I have these conversations all the time. Usually, they’re formulaic—each fight is the same, covers similar bases, jumps through the same emotional loops, and has the same ending.
“I am who I am, I am who I am, I am who I am.” I’m not sure how many times I’ve yelled this—I’ve screamed it, I’ve whispered it, I’ve cried it. I feel exhausted and beaten, and yet what I say seems to make no difference to her.
She usually tells me I’m confused. “You’re confused,” she’ll say again. “You’re just confused; it’ll be fine. It will pass, honey.” She’ll try to placate me, try to bind my eyes shut, and try to tell herself that this will all go away.
I wince when she calls me honey. Can you believe that? My own wife, and her kindness hurts me, but that’s because I’ve stopped believing that it is kindness. I think she’s trying to manipulate me into staying. We always sit in this living room for hours upon hours and it never goes anywhere.
“Debra, I’m not confused. I’m not confused.” It’s completely absurd that it has taken me this long to figure it out—to say something.
It’s been long enough that if it were a phase, it would have passed. For four years of my teenage life, I was in a sexual relationship with a man. He was older—he was an adult. He knew what he was doing. I was not. I did not.
I boxed those years away like you would uranium—never to be thought of, never to be unearthed. I chalked it up to being young and wanting to experiment. Then, I chalked it up to my alcoholism. But the more I thought about it, the more I thought that maybe that was just a pure expression of my sexuality that I was forced to repress because homosexuality, then and now, is taboo.
Not being gay was very important to me. I would tell myself that because I didn’t have feelings for him, I wasn’t gay. But in retrospect, I did feel for him. I’m just not sure if it was confusion I felt.
Then I dig a little deeper and I think—but what if it was rape? Technically—legally—it was statutory rape. But I kept going back for years, even as an adult. I kept meeting him, and after each meeting, I would think: this is it; this is the last time. Was that my shame speaking?
“So you’re bi,” she’ll say, pulling me back into the cycle of self-doubt, half-truths, and gray areas. But she knows I’m not bi.
“I’m not bi.” I’ll scream at her, hurling the words her way and hoping she’ll receive their full impact. Wake up, I’ll think. Just listen to me. Stop confusing me. Let me stand my ground. But she defies me.
“Well, how do you know?” she’ll ask innocently between sobs. Her frail shoulders jerk upwards violently, shaking unpredictably like unsteady luggage on a bumpy train.
“How do you know?” she’ll ask again, more composed this time.
And I’ll say something along the lines of “I just know.” I try to say it with finality, but I’m afraid she’ll sniff out the truth—that I don’t know. That denial is still appealing to me.
And then she becomes angry, justified, and ugly.
“So what was I? What were we?” she’ll ask, sweeping her arms around the living room. “What? Your cover story? Your beard? Your whole family—our kids!” she’ll exclaim, getting more and more hysterical.
She’ll hang her hat on the kids. “Your kids!” she’ll continue, now furious. “How? How could you do this? I don’t understand, Steve. Steve, it’s been over thirty years. How could you lie for so long? How do we tell the kids? How do we tell everyone we know? How do I live after this? I can’t, I can’t…”
“I’m sorry,” I’ll whisper as the anxiety rises in my chest and I start thinking that I shouldn’t have done this. I start wishing that the ground beneath me would open up and swallow me whole. This will seem irreversible, and god help me—I’ll start having doubts.
“I’m sorry, Debra. But you must have known; you must have sensed something, something different.”
I think my wife knows I’m gay. I’ve told her a million times. I’ve led her to the truth, and she has looked at me, and smiled, and turned around and continued…just as before.
“Oh, so now this is my fault?”
“No, it’s not your fault. It’s not. I’m sorry.” I’ll apologize because it’s not her fault. It’s mine. I broke us.
“I just don’t understand. I don’t understand how you could have played this charade for so long. Do I make your skin crawl? I must have. I must have disgusted you. How did you do it? How did you make love to me?” she’ll ask.
I thought about other people—other men. That’s the truth. But I can’t tell her that.
“Did you take pills to get it up? Right?” she’ll egg me on. “Oh, I feel so sorry for you. I feel so sorry that you had to go through all this, all of this, this lie you had to live on my account. On our account.” Her voice has a hint of mockery in it now.
And then I will break. “Please don’t do this,” I’ll say, crying. “Please don’t degrade me, us, like this. What we have is real.”
But I don’t know if I believe that. I love my wife. I would do anything for her, for our family.
“What we have is a lie!” she’ll exclaim angrily. “What we have is thirty-some years worth of a lie. You never loved me. Every time you made love to me was a lie. Our children are lies. They are born from a man who married a woman because he had to, not because he ever wanted to, or because he loved her. You never wanted any of this. You did this because you’re a coward…”
My wife’s body will shake with anger, and I will stare at her pale hands as they rest on her thighs. She will look small, fragile, and sad. She will look broken, and I will feel guilty. I will want nothing more than to take it all back. It has all been very selfish. I’ve only thought of myself, not my family, not of the kids, not of her.
My wife. She has been through everything with me. She had taken these vows seriously. She’s gotten me through illness, through financial ruin, and through decades of good times and bad.
I should have just let her live in peace. Who am I to determine that my truth is more important than her denial? Who am I to determine what is good for her? This certainly isn’t. And I love her. I love her more than I love myself.
Is that true?
“Am I a good man?” I’ll ask out loud—not of her in particular, but rather letting the words hang in the air, unresolved.
She’ll look up at me, shaking her head. Her face will be a mess. Her eyes will be sad, her cheeks will be red, and tears and snot will sully her porcelain face. When we first met, she had looked to me like a beautiful life-sized doll. But now she will be broken—and I will be the worst thing to have happened to her. I’ll wish I hadn’t said anything.
And so I don’t.