A Two Way Street

I vividly recall the very first time I lied to Jacquelynn.

Not a little fib about how many cookies I ate or how my day at work really went, but a deliberately constructed and executed lie delivered with the sole intent of misleading her about something I did not want her to know…

It was during her initial examination for her frozen shoulder in the late summer of 2016 when she first openly displayed clear and undeniable symptoms of cognitive decline. With her complete inability to follow simple instructions regarding attempting to move her arm and even a short period of seeming catatonia, the doctor looked at me with mild alarm and asked if this was normal behavior.
Knowing full well that such things were becoming more common at home, but terrified of her hearing me tell the doctor so, I told him that, no, I had never seen such a thing before. It would be less than a week later, when I had rushed to my sister’s home 100+ miles away in response to another scare for our mother’s health (she would pass less than a year later) that Jacquelynn would say something to me on the telephone which would send me speeding home in a panic, no longer able to deny the facts before me.

My wife was, literally, losing her mind.

Returning home, I ironed out the crisis that had brought me home and tried to discuss it with her, but she would have NONE of it. I was clearly overreacting and why would I ever think that of her? This would lead to our very first real fight in seventeen years together, with her shouting and crying and me futilely trying to hold us both together in the face of what I feared we were facing. The day ended with a direct order that this never be discussed with anyone. This. Stayed. Home. The following day, I called the doctor’s office and left an urgent message requesting to speak directly to him. It was a full day before he called back, but I unburdened myself on him, telling him that yes, the cognitive difficulties were becoming all too common. She could no longer write her name legibly and after what had happened, I was no longer even sure she could read. I needed help, but (and here is born the lie), it was imperative that she have no idea that I called or we had this discussion.

Why? Because I was afraid, that’s why. I was afraid, after the intensity of our fight two days earlier, that if she felt again that I had “betrayed” her by discussing it with the doctor, it would forever destroy her ability to trust me ever again, and if my suspicions were realized (we know now they were), I was going to need her unhesitating trust going forward in order to take the best possible care of her.
Our next visit to the doctor did NOT go well. Ostensibly a checkup for the shoulder, it quickly turned into an ambush, the tiny exam room crammed with nurses, aides, a social worker, and the doctor himself. Before she has any idea what’s happening, they’re administering a MOCA (MOntreal Cognitive Assessment) test and hammering her with questions and she’s getting more and more agitated and is soon deep in her very first crippling panic attack. After the room cleared and she settled a little, leaning on me and still sobbing, the doctor played his part and assumed full responsibility for the ambush, rejecting her accusations that I had instigated the whole thing. Comforted but still furious, she let me guide her downstairs for the ordered MRI then take her home.

The act of that lie killed a small part of me, even though to this day I know that it was entirely necessary. I had long since sworn to myself to be forever trustworthy for her, but I would gradually sacrifice more and more of my soul in such lies over the next three years, to protect her and her trust in me, and the most frightening, humiliating part of it all is just how easy it becomes with repetition.   Eventually, careful and elaborate lies become second nature, forcing one to tread with ever more elevated caution, remembering always that such things remain a last resort at all times.

Recently, I broke down some of the fictions that Jacquelynn maintained throughout our time together, and how learning about them affected both this blog/book and me personally.  I am no paragon of unstained integrity.  I make no claim of perfection and sit here deeply ashamed of every deceitful act and word, no matter how minor it may have seemed at the time.
However, the deliberate construction and execution of a structured lie, designed strictly to mislead for the sole reason of protecting the liar’s interests, is to my mind a darker act. It is a frightful wound that I must heal on my own through forgiveness of self. Probably the most difficult person for me to forgive.

Please, whatever happens going forward in my life, please never require me to lie to my heart ever again. It’s among the deepest, rawest self-inflicted wounds I have. Five months and more after her passing and three full years after it all began with this one intricately constructed deception, it still bleeds and burns when I pick at it.

Let me live in truth and honesty going forward.

Fictional Accountings

This is something I had resolved never to write. Honestly, I’ve labored over it for a while now, and it gets more and more difficult to excuse my own silence every day. Now, as I set my sights on finishing this blog and the book it was always intended to birth, I find that I can no longer keep silent about some glaring factual flaws in the overall narrative.

Please understand, the fictions were not created by me, and when I shared them as facts, it is because they were facts, to the very best of my knowledge. But in the months leading up to Jacquelynn’s death and even more so afterward, I have learned that much of what I understood of her was not rooted entirely in truth.

Yes, she lied about her age. By eight years. Born in 1958, she had told me from the outset that we shared a 1966 birth year. Please believe me when I say that it would NEVER have been an issue. Of the four women I spoke to on the dating site through which we initially met (another truth she refused to admit to anyone and forbade me to ever discuss), all but one were older than me by a similar delta. I had essentially figured this out several years before her illness but allowed her to maintain it, even through the increasingly flimsy (unsolicited) explanations. I wanted very much to believe her, to believe that she wouldn’t lie to me about something so meaningless, but, deep down, I knew full well, even though the actual date remained a mystery to me. Apparently, she even enlisted her brother’s assistance, extracting from him a promise of silence it took considerable effort and her terminal illness to get him to break.

That’s not the primary issue here, but it’s at the root of it. To maintain that fiction, and to get the accomplishments of her life to match up, she constructed an elegant and easily believable collegiate and professional career with dates to match. An ever-more-complicated string of events, intricately woven by a mind obsessed with details and analysis. Made much easier, I’m sure, by my unwillingness to believe she’d ever lie to me. All untrue, I would eventually learn. I’m far from the only person she told these things, but shouldn’t I be the one person she told the truth? Shouldn’t I have had access to the real Jacquelynn?
I’m honestly not angry, though. If anything, I feel deeply guilty that I may have ever done or said something, anything, that made her fear being totally honest with me. If I did, I am so very, deeply sorry.

The point of all of this is twofold: Of course, I want Jacquelynn’s story to be told as much from her point of view as possible, which is why this information will likely appear in the book as a preface of sorts and the narrative will read as it unfolded, with the story as she told and lived it. Her truth, if not the truth.
Secondly, I deeply understand the desire, the need, to create one’s backstory rather than simply telling it. When one’s self-image isn’t the brightest (even when it truly deserves to be), and when one is striving to create a “more desirable” portrait, the temptation to embellish can be difficult to resist. I can forgive that easily.
The maintenance of a lie can be damned difficult. Stories get thinner as people get closer, and so does the ice the lies force you to skate across in every conversation. But coming clean can be scarier yet, and just gets more so as time piles up. “I know I should tell him, but he’s going to be SO mad that I didn’t tell him sooner…” I can hear the internal arguments in her head even now. She always did overanalyze every little thing. I feel that I earned her trust, but never truly received it fully. She loved me enough to lie to me, and feared losing me enough to work SO hard to maintain it.
And I don’t doubt for one second that she loved me. I know full well that I was the love of her life and she was mine.

 

With all of this behind me now, I have learned one very important thing about myself: if life ever does give me another shot at real love, I want one thing and one thing only, right from the very beginning; I want to be the one loved and important enough, to tell the truth. I deserve to be the man she loves enough to risk the whole truth to keep. Whomever she is, she has my word that she’ll receive the same, right up front.
The truth. Not just a truth, not just my version of the truth. She’ll know ME. Blemishes, failures, and all. I have no right or desire to enter a relationship with any less than that.

I read a quote this evening from actor and comedian Jim Carrey which seems incredibly appropriate just now: “Depression is your avatar telling you it is tired of being the character you’re trying to play.”
I’m truly tired of being depressed, and of being any me other than the genuine Matthew.
Genuine Matthew is the writer you have come to know in these pages. This is me, bleeding all over the keyboard, revealing his flaws and triumphs in equal and highly unbalanced measure.