Katie Darby Mullins
- When I was a teenager, my best friend and I used to play a game called “two truths and a lie.” It’s what it sounds like: you say three statements, one of which is a lie, and you try to guess which ones are true. I always used to get mixed up—sometimes I’d accidentally say three true things, or three false things—or I’d forget which I was supposed to be guessing. Truths and lies, they all get mixed up. I remember one day, Sandy—that was her name, Sandy—said, “OK, here goes. One, I kissed Bobby outside the school by that magnolia tree. Two, I think your new haircut looks great. Three, I’m moving to Tuscon.”
I stared at her. She was chewing bubble gum, loudly, and I could smell the sugary
goo as it tumbled against her teeth. “I don’t know, San. You aren’t moving?”
She shook her head. “That’s sort of a lie,” she said, “but we’re going to Austin. So I won’t be that far away.”
“Really? That’s how you were going to tell me?” I asked, but I knew, that’s how we told each other everything. That’s how she told me about her first boyfriend, how I told her my parents were getting divorced. “Anyway, I win.”
“No, that was only kind of a lie. It was partly true.”
“The other two sound true,” I said.
She smiled. “Then I’m getting better.” She threw her long, blond hair over her shoulder and said, “I figured out the trick. The trick is that they’re all true. And they’re all a lie. You tell part of the truth, and the lies seem natural because they get all mixed up like clothes in a dryer.”
“That’s not how you play,” I said, pouting. “And anyway, I thought you liked my hair?”
Sandy and I didn’t keep in touch after graduation, but I think about her sometimes still. I think about her when I look at Henry sleeping peacefully while I can’t sleep, wondering what else he hasn’t told me yet. It all gets mixed up. Clothes in a dryer.
- The first time I searched for the ex’s Facebook, I was relieved because she didn’t have one. This is going to save me so much time, I thought to myself.
I remember where I was. I was in a coffee shop waiting for my husband. I was killing time. I had to find something else to occupy me, sure, but it was worth it. I was glad there wasn’t anything knowable out there: that even if I wanted access, I couldn’t have it.
I’d first found out Henry had been married before because she slipped and left a message on the family answering machine. Henry, I’m lonely. Some nonsense like that. I assumed they’d been having an affair, but he assured me that wasn’t the case—that she just calls every year on the anniversary of their divorce. We were young. I was dumb. He gave me her full name and told me everything I wanted to know. Their wedding colors—to make sure they weren’t the same. Their “song.” It was like listening to stories about a completely different Henry—one who liked Boyz II Men and thought red and gold were appropriate wedding colors.
- I have never been good with faces. I can’t tell friends I’ve known for years out of a crowd. Once I saw an ex-boyfriend—someone I had been with for almost a year—in a bookstore. He had a beard, but I was so sure it was him. I circled the historical books—his favorite—waiting for him to look up and acknowledge me. When he finally did, he said, “Thanks, but I know what I’m looking for.”
So close to the way he broke up with me. But of course it wasn’t him. It was some guy who looked like him. Or maybe he didn’t. My brain can’t tell these things apart. I don’t think it’s a disorder, but sometimes I wonder.
Henry showed me a picture of his ex-wife—he calls her Jessica, but everyone else calls her Jess. I can only think of her as “the ex.” The ex was, I’m sure, beautiful, though her nose was bigger than mine and she was taller than Henry. I’d always thought he liked my size. But I only saw a picture just that once. Now I walk around the world knowing that I could run into her at any time and neither of us would know it. At least I wouldn’t. God knows what she knows about me. Apparently, she and Henry have talked since the divorce. Just a few times, just to catch up. It is silly for me to care, and I know it.
- That bitch didn’t slip. She meant to leave that message. I know it deep in my lizard brain. Henry pretends it must have been a mistake, but I know if it were me, I would have been calling his bluff—does your wife know you used to be married? Does she know who you used to be?
And anyway, I remember exactly what she said. She didn’t say, “Henry, I’m lonely.” She said, “Henry, I know you’re lonely.” I only think about that after drinking.
- The coffee. Henry finally got to the coffee shop—Mocha Joe’s, on Third—and he looked so warm and loving. That was the moment I forgave him for not telling me, really. Which means it should have been the end of my research on the ex, but it wasn’t. It was the beginning.
I’d been researching generic articles on divorce for a long time, but never found anything that reminded me of Henry’s. They were young, but they weren’t as stupid as he seemed to say. They seemed to have really been in love. The picture he’d shown me was of them on a boat on a lake—a lake we’d been to, one we’d brought a picnic lunch to. They looked so happy and he looked so young, his hair not yet flecked with stray whites and grays.
At Mocha Joe’s, I tried to picture how Henry and I looked from the outside—like any other couple? Did we talk enough? Too much? Laugh enough? I couldn’t quite see it through a stranger’s lens, but we must look happy. Did we look as happy as he did in that picture?
“Janice? Janice, did you hear me?”
“Sorry, honey, I was daydreaming,” I said, picking my cuticles.
“It’s fine. I said I have to get back to work. We’re busy today.” He was always busy. He was a jewelry salesman who worked on commission.
“That’s fine,” I said. “I love you.”
He got up, smiled, and turned around. I grabbed his arm. “No kiss?”
He looked surprised, but pleasantly so, as he bent down and kissed my forehead. “I’m glad you’re back to normal,” he said. “I’m so glad to have my Janice back.”
Five ‘o clock rolled around, then six. He was working late. He never called to tell me—he didn’t have time. He was out on the floor. But it was too much time to think—it gave me enough time to realize that the ex may have blocked me on Facebook. She doesn’t know your name, how could she block you? I tried to convince myself, but the voice still needled in the back of my mind. I needed to make a decision. I knew once I did this I would have crossed a line, but I decided it was worth it.
I created a fake profile and then I typed her name in again– and it came up. That meant a few things: first, she knew about me. She knew my name well enough to block me. And of course, I’d gone too far, but I couldn’t very well go back now.
- When I was little, I used to plan my wedding with Barbies. I’d dress them in wedding dresses (my favorite was pastel pink, that’ll give ‘em something to talk about) and make them eat tiny plastic cakes.
Sometimes I still feel like I’m moving Barbies around, making them eat tiny plastic cake. Sometimes none of this feels real. When Henry and I got married, I promised to love and honor, but not obey. Would that have made a difference? I’m still not sure. I wonder if she promised to obey. It doesn’t matter. I divorced her. I married you. Let it go.
I can’t let it go because I’ve discovered something important. She is still in love with Henry.
- Exploring the Internet for crumbs of information had slowly turned me into a frustrated kid at a vending machine, first gently cajoling and following rules, then ruthlessly shaking and kicking for morsels. Everything is locked down. She has one profile picture, her sitting on a rope swing with a big, cheesy smile on her face, and that’s it. I can’t even see people’s comments on it.
Of course, the problem is I’m smart enough to know that the comments wouldn’t
actually tell me anything I wanted to know. How often do people write things like, “This picture reminds me of back when you were married to Henry—hey, have you talked to him lately? How are you feeling about him now?”
I stare. I memorize. I try to see more pictures. I look up websites called “How to Access a Private Facebook.” It is no use. I can’t do it without adding her—which, of course, I can’t do. Even with a different name, birthday, and city, I’m all too aware that Marlene Dawson is me, Janice Patrick, and that if I got caught, I couldn’t explain myself. So I back down and dream of security holes. When Henry comes home, I pretend I have been working on a quilt—one I started for him right after he proposed four years ago, one that is still very much unfinished.
- I start making lists obsessively. Checking things off gives me no pleasure, but looking at the endless things I plan on accomplishing makes me feel immortal. It starts off as an ever-growing grocery list. I buy a whole notebook—one of the old black and white composition notebooks—and plan on adding foods and cleaning products, one after another. I think, now I will know everything I buy. It is exciting, but ultimately not very satisfying.
It doesn’t take long before my lists get more substantial—
MOVIES I HAVEN’T SEEN YET
BOOKS I GAVE UP ON
PEOPLE I DON’T TALK TO ANYMORE
PLACES I WONDER IF HE TOOK HER
THINGS I SHOULD HAVE TOLD MY THERAPIST BY NOW
The last one makes me laugh. I turn the page and write, “dryer sheets,” “peaches,” “paper towels.”
Henry asked me if I thought my life was boring. He said the lists didn’t seem like a “productive use of time.” He said that he wished he had the time to make lists. I thought about making a list called “THINGS I WISH I HAD TIME TO DO,” but I know how much time I waste.
- I’ve lived in San Antonio my whole life and hate to leave, even for a vacation. For our honeymoon, I suggested that Henry and I go to the Alamo and the Riverwalk. He laughed and thought I was joking, but I wasn’t. When he realized how hurt I was, he went ahead and made the plans—we went to Gruene Hall to see some country show, we went to Sea World and watched the sea lions perform, we stayed at a bed and breakfast a few miles from home. It was perfect.
I found a letter he was writing to his father a few months after we got married,
and even though I knew I shouldn’t read it, I did. I had a bad habit of that—reading his text messages when he went to the bathroom, going through old photo albums and reading the writing on the back of the pictures.
He told his father that he wasn’t sure he’d made the right decision marrying me and that he should have known when I didn’t want to go out of town that I wouldn’t be “adventurous” enough for him. I never told him I read it, but that word lives in the back of my head now. I wasn’t sure I’d made the right choice, either.
Now, I feel like if he was so goddamn unsure, he should have backed out. He’d already been married. He should have known.
10. How did we fall in love? I walked into a restaurant and Henry, who was sitting at a table on a date, looked up and was struck dumb. He just stopped talking in the middle of a sentence. The woman he was with kept saying, “Henry? Henry?” getting more and more upset, but he just kept staring at me. I was wearing a long white skirt and a snug pink T-shirt—my favorite outfit, but not one that usually got me noticed. It was like he was seeing the person I liked to be the most, and he was stunned. I have never been so powerful.
11. My father left my mother when I was in sixth grade. He moved to Houston. I don’t leave San Antonio, so I haven’t seen him since. He left my mom for a church secretary. Of course he did, I thought.
12. Sometimes, four or five days would go by and I wouldn’t Google her—sometimes, I couldn’t make it an hour. There was no way of predicting what would set me off, either. Henry working late was a pretty consistent trigger. One morning I woke up around four in the morning and he still wasn’t home. I texted him and got a quick reply: “Sorry. Didn’t want to wake you. Inventory. Be home soon.”
I texted back, “Love you” and knew I wouldn’t hear back. He was busy. Working.
I didn’t bother to evaluate whether or not I believed him. But at that moment I realized—if I really wanted to be someone else on Facebook, it wouldn’t be hard. The ex probably wasn’t some kind of computer technology wizard. There was no way she could track IP addresses, or whatever it was that let people know who the “real” person on the other side of the computer was.
I logged in as Marlene. My profile was blank—no picture, no interests, no friends. The only thing it was good for was seeing the ex’s profile picture, because of course, she had no reason to block a fake person.
I went to the kitchen and found Henry’s Knob Creek bourbon. I poured a glass over ice, brought it back into the bedroom with me, and sucked on the bitter liquor, holding it in my mouth until it burned and then swallowing it down. I was ready. In fact, I had a plan.
It’s easy enough to upload a fake picture. I chose a Salvador Dali painting—the melting clocks. Who needs a face when you can be surreal? I entered a fake high school year, and finally, said that I was from Los Angeles. I flipped open my list book, found the list of movies I hadn’t seen, and listed them as my favorites. Not only was Marlene not anyone that I recognized, I wasn’t even sure if she was someone I liked.
After the profile was complete, I realized my best chance at getting to see her profile was to add her as a friend. Of course, a profile with no friends would be suspicious, so first, I looked to see if she was part of any groups.
13. The ex is a church secretary. The bourbon isn’t helping, but all of the sudden, the ex is Every Woman, and I am swimmy and drunk. I know now how easy it will be to add her—all I have to do is add a ton of people from the church congregation, put some crap about loving God on my profile, and I’m set. I do it, and know that by tomorrow night, enough people will have accepted my friend request that I can add the ex. Tomorrow, I will finally see the ex’s profile: her friends, her pictures, the things she complains about, her birthday. She will be exposed to me and she won’t even know.
Sometimes when I am doing something awful, I stop and realize it in the moment and I feel bad. But not this time. This time, I shut up every voice inside of me and tell it that I am entitled to know, and that I have to go through her, because Henry sure as hell hasn’t told me anything. I don’t have a choice. I have been backed into a corner. Things are slipping away from me and there’s nothing I can do.
14. Two truths and a lie:
One, the reason that I am so obsessed with the ex is because I’m afraid that Henry is still in love with her;
Two, I am so fucking lonely;
Three, I hate what I’m becoming, but I can’t turn back now.
I was always so bad at this game. Of course they’re all true. I never got good at
burying lies among the truths, never could figure out how to spin everything together the way Sandy did. Sandy’s on the list of people I don’t talk to anymore. So is my dad. I am worried that before long, Henry will be on it, too.
15. When the ex accepts my friend request, I take a deep breath: this is an exciting development, but I don’t want to blow it. I want to know everything about her. I click over to her page and she is every bit as boring as I thought she would be. She’s a fan of Martha Stewart. Of course. Why would he ever leave a woman who loved Martha Stewart? All I do is shrink his sweaters.
She posts Bible verses all the time about how good God is, but nothing
controversial. I decide it’s because she is not a critical thinker. She always looks so happy and so grateful. I haven’t learned much, but I am getting sick to my stomach.
I must have read every word on her profile thirty times before realizing that I could finally see the comments and friends like I’d always wanted to. I went through a bunch of old pictures, hoping to find some comments Henry had made when they were still together. I realized I wasn’t even sure when that was—just that it was sometime in the past.
Why are you hurting yourself? I thought, but then I quieted that voice, too—if I couldn’t listen to the voice that told me to watch out for other people, I damn sure wasn’t going to listen to the voice that was taking care of me.
I didn’t find anything. Nothing. But then I remembered—her profile picture. I could finally see the comments on her profile picture.
There it was: “you are more beautiful every day,” he wrote.
Then down further: “every time i see this picture it makes me smile,” he wrote.
Even further—a few weeks ago—he’d written, “you never change the picture—but you also never change. it was so good seeing you yesterday.”
If I could have, I would have bitten down hard on the heart in my throat, puncturing it, severing arteries and ventricles and whatever else makes up a heart. I would have made me bleed.
16. No days pass without me checking her profile now. I am Marlene more than I am me. I have even begun to comment on people’s photos—never hers, but I am becoming a part of their community. I have infiltrated. I am not sure why.
Henry knows something is wrong, but I can’t tell him what. I don’t want him to
think that I’m crazy, and I know he will. All of the sudden, I know what it must be like to keep a secret like that from your spouse, and I am satisfied.
“You seem so distant,” he says one night. I’m watching TV with a pile of quilting squares in my lap.
“What would make you say that?” I asked.
“I don’t know. I just feel it.”
You’re with her when you say you’re working, I think, but instead I say, “I’ve just been enjoying my time alone lately.” I sit down what I’m working on and check my phone.
“What are you always doing on your phone?” he asks.
“Nothing,” I say. “Talking to old friends.”
He smiles. “I’m glad. Are you reconnecting with the people you lost contact with? Sandy?”
I smile tight-lipped and nod. Three lies. I always tell all lies or all truths.
I will never finish his quilt. I take out as many stitches as I put in. It is just something to do with my hands between reading Facebook and wondering what the ex smells like, whether Henry likes it better. I care less and less what he thinks.
17. After Henry left, I got a message from her account—generally saying that she knew
who I was, that she was sorry Henry had left, that if I needed anything to let her know. She worked for a church, you know. She could help, you know. Apparently she’d known since the beginning.
I wrote back a list—QUESTIONS I HAVE FOR YOU. But I couldn’t ever figure out how to phrase them, or if I really wanted to know the answer anyway.
Katie Darby Mullins teaches at the University of Evansville. In addition to being nominated for a Pushcart Prize and editing a rock ‘n roll crossover edition of the metrical poetry journal Measure, she’s been published or has work forthcoming in journals like Hawaii Pacific Review, Harpur Palate, Broad River Review, Big Lucks, The Evansville Review, and she was a semifinalist in the Ropewalk Press Fiction Chapbook competition and in the Casey Shay Press poetry chapbook competition. She’s also the lead writer and founder of the music blog Katie Darby Recommends.