Secret Lovers

Portland, OR 2011. I had dated a man for almost 5 years that strangled me, traced knives against my neck and threatened to stab my family, and constantly whispered in my ear that I was the muse for his artwork, a uniquely, intrinsically beautiful muse, as I burrito wrapped myself in the layers of blankets on his mattress on the floor. There were times he was gentle, understanding, and patient. And there were times he pinched my love handles until my eyes smartly watered because he thought my pancakes were too doughy. After 5 years, a state change, and a lot of talks tucked away in a Starbucks with campus security and a victim advocate from the local police department, I broke up with him about a month shy of our 5 year anniversary. About a week later, I fell in bed with someone from my college football team, assumed we were officially dating, and spent months being confused that he thought it was casual sex. I thought there was nothing “casual” about a doggy style pounding that deep and assumed I was his only. And the even bigger assumption that he was emotionally attached to anything about me. Which made me meander into the Skype dates and casual meetups of a friend of one of my best friends, who listened to my whispered insecurities over Skype then promptly ended things the day before Valentine’s Day 2012 on a car ride home from work.

February 2012. I went on a “mancation” that evening, a term I had heard from the BET show “Let’s Stay Together.” Erica Hubbard’s character Kita used it to describe taking a vacation from men, and I thought the cute amalgamation perfectly captured what I needed. So I decided to swear off men, relationships, situationships, and everything in between for a vague while. Fast forward to June. I was volunteering at a painting event at a day laborer center. This is where I met Carlos, while we were painting the wall of their new tool shed and he offered to show me how to walk over the bridge into downtown Portland so I wouldn’t have to catch the bus. As we walked, lamenting in Spanish about the state of the DREAM Act and some new thing called DACA, I thanked him and took a hard left to my favorite food truck. He had taken the same hard left and offered to buy my lunch. Sure. I like free food. He gave me his number and I mumbled I wasn’t calling him; he told me to “keep it anyway.” I fished it out of my pants pocket about a week later, justifying that I was bored and didn’t want to go to the Saturday Market alone. He offered to meet me there, and somehow we became a couple. I was 21. He was 60.

We were together 5 months. About a month in, he told me he loved me, and would show up at my campus apartment every afternoon when I got home from work, murmuring that he loved me so much he couldn’t stand not seeing me every day. I cocooned myself in the thought that someone could love me that deeply, and make such a vulnerable proclamation. This quickly evolved into appearing at my apartment window so he would know my bus route to and from work, wanting me to answer the phone during class and leave it in my lap so he could hear the professor in the background, and about 4 months in saying that he had cancer and his last wish was to marry me. Marriage?! Me?! I told him no, while a soft nougat in me blamed myself for saying no to a dying man. I yelled during an argument we were better off breaking up, but he covered my mouth with his hand and proceeded to strip down to a thong I didn’t have the heart to tell him I found somewhat short of repulsive.

November 2012. I tried to break up with him again, but he threatened suicide. Death?! Because of me?! He started telling strangers around the city that I was his wife, starting with a “my wife will order first” to the waiter at Red Robins to a casual “my wife just wants a lemonade, no ice,” to the barista at Starbucks. As I practiced my smile in the mirror, ignored phone calls and told my best friends that I was getting married, I tried to figure out what was going on with this cancer treatment? How long could I keep this a secret from my family? And was he really going to commit suicide? The night of our Race Monologues, one of the events on campus I actually looked forward to as it was minority planned, presented and dissected, the volcano inside of me erupted and I found myself on my best friend’s couch, bawling and texting Carlos that it was over.

After a Law & Order SVU marathon and a more peaceful night of sleep on her couch than I expected, I awoke to a full voicemail and about 30 text messages. The first one, with a simple “I never had cancer” was read. The rest were deleted. Just my luck, I was writing my thesis and interviewing jornaleros at the same day laborer center where we met.

But he had no reason to be there, right? How many more people would find out?

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