I never thought I would say this – but Augusten Burroughs was right when he said, It doesn’t matter where I begin – you’re not going to believe me anyway. And so I’ll just begin.
I woke up a few weeks ago, over the course of several days, noticing that my hair – which was at that time, very long and not dry – was getting thinner and finer and dryer by the day. But how, I wanted to know, how was this happening, and while I slept? Was someone coming in to the apartment or was it something in my shampoo or a mix of shampoo and water or what? Whatever the case, when I woke up in the morning, my hair was notably lighter (very Blonde on Blonde and I don’t mean that in a positive way). And so I took a pair of scissors and I cut all of it off while standing by the bathroom mirror.
You see, it would have been expected to call a friend – or perhaps – and this is just rational – the police, but I wasn’t quite sure what I would say: how to even explain this nightmare even to myself. I wasn’t sure they would believe me because quite frankly, even I found it hard to believe.
All of this, disturbing me, belongings, anything really – including even my hair, began around the time of my divorce – or that’s when I really noticed it. First, things in the house were rearranged and moved about; then clothes were damaged and went missing; then I had this sense that I was being watched and found that my computer had been hacked by another server. (It could have started years before all of this, but I’ll stick with this one recent event). So why didn’t I run screaming all alarm to the local police? I did the rational thing – I began talking with some friends first. Like a normal person…
I told some friends that I was being bullied in my own home; that objects were being damaged and broken; that my computer was hacked; that my own iPod was hacked. So why didn’t my friends believe me – or why did they believe me at first, then do an about-face – why any about-face – which only added to any confusion as well as just flat-out depression. It became so absurd that I couldn’t even trust some of the things that my own best friend said. And anyway, hadn’t I had slept with him and deceived my ex-husband?Wasn’t it possible that they were both duping me? I suppose it was…
I was ending my marriage because of what I had done; because it was wrong. Because I lied and I was in love and even though my husband said, He’ll never be with you, and I think I knew it to be true but wanted not to hear it, I still walked away from everything I had ever known. Every safety, every love, all of it. Hiroshima, just like that. Then my grandmother died. And my father several months later.
But the deception and duping of me? Well, that was public humiliation. What happened between my husband and me was private – and now you know. You know that I deceived and hurt my husband and was a wicked woman who wore the scarlet A for far too long and I am officially taking it off. But whatever it was, it was personal. It was between us.
Sure, he knew how to hurt me back, but I didn’t see him as an emotional terrorist. Not really. But what was happening in my house, in our house, was not even a subtle form of emotional abuse the goal of which was to make you think you are completely mad (think Hitchcock’s Gaslight). I was being monitored constantly, shouted at, objects were being reorganized, clean dishes were made dirty again, which may sound ridiculous and is but believe me when I tell you. These were things direct from The Book of Surrealist Games – only here, they were slightly more inventive – I am no longer sure what I would call it other than cruel and abusive. Clever, is simply kind and would be delusional.
We, my ex and I, once saw a film together called Funny Games and neither of us thought it was funny in the least. What is happening now reminds me in some ways of that film – of that. Of a marriage that is essentially bullied and raped and pillaged and is made a public spectacle…
So why do I write about this now? And why so many subjects combined into one? Because I find that I have to trust to you – my reader. And so here is what I know, or part of it, laid out before you – and you can determine what you think. The parts that remain private, well, let them remain so – and what you already know, then I suppose you already know.
My divorce, like any divorce, would not really have been a reason to spy on me; not unless my husband lost it and I don’t think he did. Nor would it, in my view, have been a reason to psychologically terrorize me or anyone else – to reshuffle bookshelves and book titles so that the spines spelled out a story (you know when your environment has been manipulated, trust me) to make you think x y or z. And so when I was getting a divorce, around that time, my whole household environment was manipulated: everything. But especially books and media and many other objects such that it became like a stage set. My home stopped being my home. Certain photographs were paired with other framed photographs. Furniture was slowly damaged and the veneer of wood bleached away. Dresses had their hems picked undone, straps of dresses were cut, clothes and underthings were soiled deliberately with lipstick, stockings were ripped, shoes scuffed ruined buckles broken, straps cut.
In the spring, when my husband and I went to mulch the roses, we were met with live bees swarming as we reached into the bag, using our bare hands as we pulled out handfuls of swarming bees and bits of mulch. Thank goodness I noticed the mulch was infact, moving – not simple mulch at all but bee-mulch. But the bees were docile and calm because perhaps despite everything, we were docile and calm mulching our wedding roses. Had things been otherwise, it would have been much like something out of a horror movie.
As to the rest of that time, the single bed in the study where I slept would shake at night (I wasn’t seizing and was actually too frightened to just look under it). I began to sleep with a locked door – a lock that sometimes worked, other times did not. Most locks can be “keyed”; this changes the order of latches so that the key sometimes works, other times does not. Our home became a bad version of Hollywood; think Hollyweird. And my ex-husband and I, well, we’re just not a very Hollywood couple. We work in publishing.
It would be an easy thing to take the fact of my epilepsy and manic depression and say, Well, this is why you perceive things as such. None of it was or is real. You only perceive it that way because you are sick… dear.
Or you could say using medicinal cannabis, a drug which has helped me immensely, has instead had some negative impact on my perception as opposed to a positive effect on my medical condition and that instead everything I’ve told you is my head; and as to the rest of what I am about to say – well, it’s paranoia.
So you could say any of those things at all; and perhaps some people who read this will say one or all of the above because maybe what I write sounds far-fetched to them. I have to say, it does seem odd – even to me. And I would like answers too.
There is more, and so if what is happening and what happened to me is not about my divorce, well then, maybe it is about this – because I’m telling you all of the possible reasons why anyone might hate me enough to do this. It seems far-fetched even to me but here you have it.
I would like to think this is old news but just in case, just in case this is at all political, let me clear the deck, because it may be that politics has to do with this and if it does, well let’s clear that up right away. I’m marginally politically involved. Let me tell you how: I knew Maureen Sullivan Stemberg, who was married to Staples founder Tom Stemberg. I had known Maureen for many years and had become good friends with her.
I worked as a ghostwriter/speechwriter and unofficial publicist for Stemberg and besides that, was a good and close friend. And I had been reading about her divorce off and on for ages from stacks of boxes that lined her Copley apartment years back because I was interested in what happened to her because frankly, when she told me, I couldn’t believe it. Not at first. I don’t know a whole lot about the law: I didn’t know about the precedent-setting Bowser v Bowser, and divorce communal property. I did not know about equal equity split division in Massachusetts – we had long discussions about this. What I really didn’t know was about Mitt Romney or who he was at all. But what I found out was that he had been involved in her divorce proceedings and had testified on the stand. She and I spoke about this – and I’ve written about this before. About what I saw, about what Romney said during that trial.
Maureen asked years later if I would co-write (and it would be ghostwritten) a book about her marriage, her life, her illnesses, her courage through various illnesses and her life and circumstance, and in it – a small fraction of the book – she would talk about then-presidential hopeful Mitt Romney. It was to be a relatively small part of the book, but obviously, had the book been written pre-election time, it would have helped sell the book and made a difference in the election. Honestly, I’m not sure. I felt there were other stories there besides Romney – that, really, the book was about her and about other women – we could speak to that.
I kept good notes and tapes from our meetings that took place one long summer and winter but Sullivan and I could never agree on terms. We just kept spinning our wheels. No matter what progress I felt we made, we seemed to get nowhere in the final account and so we stopped.
Long after we stopped speaking, one night my telephone rang off the hook with reporters who wanted to speak with me about Romney. I said I’d have to speak with Sullivan and I did. I told her that some people had rung from various places, Mother Jones, ABC, TMZ; and that they had asked to have a conversation with me about her, and what did she think? She said not to speak to them and alas, she said it in a way that actually made me feel pretty awful because while I could not speak to anyone who called and while I had put off a number of people, others were on their way or I had spoken to them and I felt to the good – to her benefit. It was not to my benefit, or if it was, I wanted to know how.
One station did come, though, and it was too late to hold them off. The guy on the phone said. “It’s too late, my people are on the train from New York,” which may have been true. And so I spoke with them about what I had seen and what I knew but made it quite clear that I would say only what I knew – not what she had said. I could not speak on another person’s behalf – ever. But I would speak about what I had seen directly with my own eyes; what I knew. As far as I know, there is no gag order on that.
Sullivan and I had a falling out over the whole matter – and I want to tell her because we did have a failing out that what she fails to understand, is that perhaps at a certain point it ceases to be about her and becomes about larger issues that relate to all women, if not all people but certainly to women. And as for me, well, there I was post-divorce in a compromised, difficult situation and feeling hounded precisely because I had been a part of a situation in which I had tried to help that was why people were calling now; because her name and my mine had become intertwined.
I cannot change what I have heard from those meetings for that book that we did not write (or that I did not write); I cannot unhear any of it, but I’ve no contract, no money, never took any, and hell, if there is some, I must tell you, I’d really really like some at this point because I have worked hard and by god, I need money. But let me stay on track here because the larger issue is this: women are bullied every day – and most often, the worst offenders of bullied women are (ta-da) other women or often, another couple bullying a single woman. This is one of the most common syndromes besides “mob-bullying” (group bullying). It’s a hideous construction. Sullivan knows all about bullying; she’s been the target and victim of some pretty vicious stuff herself – I’ve seen it and written about it in her defense. But one thing we never do ever is treat each other cruelly and with a vicious intent. I dropped out, or we dropped that book project, because it seemed to me that there was some of that going on – what I would simply call profound bullshit but we’ll leave that between Sullivan and me were it belongs.
But telling me You cannot after I’m already involved in a situation, well – I’ve spoken to that; it isn’t just about her or me at a certain point. It certainly isn’t about me, that much I do know. I know that I was asked about Romney and could only say x amount because that is all I could say. But let me tell you, I thought and still believe I was doing a good thing – a thing that could perhaps be of some consequence to all women or all of us because you tell the truth when you are asked. If someone asks you, as she asked me, “Don’t talk about me or what I said,” well – I didn’t do that and I wouldn’t. She has nothing to fear from me ever. I’d do anything to help her, actually, and she ought to know that. To consider anything else means that we surely have had a breakdown in communication. Then we are not speaking the same language at all. I do not say the things that she shared with me here or anywhere else because she asked me not to – serious things – and it’s that simple. To be hostile about it – Just don’t. Please.
And so now I write to advise you of several things that I am sure you already know: women ought never bully other women. I’m so sick to death of it, I have to tell you. So just don’t. More, I have every right to speak on my own behalf at any time, regardless of whether you like it. You may have a gag order but you do not have a gag order on me. Nobody does. This includes all members of my family and previous family and all friends. So remember, we all reap what we sow as everyone is so fond of saying (as if we did not know and it really took an Ivy League degree etc. etc.) but really, if you can’t play nice, don’t play, or how about: stop playing. Grow up.
The documentary that is forthcoming or was or is cancelled with DragonLion Media (I really no longer know, called A Portrait in Courage, is still listed on the Internet and I’m listed as chief writer or interviewer, but I’m not the chief anything. Let me clarify: I’ve no contract, no agent for that project, never met with anyone other than her, never did. She may have agency representation elsewhere, but it ain’t with me and doesn’t involve me.
So where are you, Maureen? Is there someone else back there who has taken the reins for this book and is getting paid? Of course there is and so it should be. And it’s about about money honey as well as some greater good and I fully believe that and I believe her. Hell, it could be about all of that for Romney, it was for Stemberg, it probably was even for my ex-husband, and you can bet that no matter what, in the final account it is no different for women who are divorced, like Sullivan, like myself, who leave these men and are alone and ill with little legal protection (at present she has Allred) but others who have no money for a lawyer, and frankly, why should it not be? Since when did caring about money become a such a dirty thing? I think women are told that so that they don’t care about it. To keep us good and quiet and complicit.
I’ve come to learn that no matter what anyone tells you, ultimately sometimes you have to be about the self – and that ideally, it should be about some modicum of integrity. If you’ve lost sight of that, you’ve lost it all. But don’t think that looking out for you and thinking in terms of that dirty word, money, is such a bad thing. It’s not. Perhaps it should be about that and I’ve been a fool because without that, I’ve noticed, in our current society, we don’t seem to have a whole lot of power.
So then I wonder: these days when my mother says to me, “Darling, I’m worried for your mental health – I mean, if you really think people are coming into and out of your apartment and moving things around and stealing them…” whether I ought bother getting into a whole discussion about what happened in my divorce and about Romney and the restraining order and politics and cannabis and epilepsy and infidelity and privacy and balance and how some people cannot reconcile little ole me with my Independent views that, really, aren’t so hard to reconcile if someone would just listen and say, Wait – but she is making sense.
Maybe she makes a whole lot of sense. Maybe she is telling the truth. Maybe this should stop and now. And maybe this bullying between women and to women by women on women and by men as well or couples or mob bullying (just look it all up) has been and was happening for far too long and we should stop that as well because it’s wrong.
But I don’t tell her any of it because I know that she knows what it’s like. So I don’t tell my mother about my hair and how I had to cut it all off because… Nor do I tell her that even though it is now cropped almost to my ears, even these days, sometimes when I wake up, it seems to me that there are still bits missing and I don’t know how that is possible. That I dare not make any accusations at this point in case I am wrong. That I better not call the police because, shit, what on earth would I say: “Officer, someone cuts my hair in the night, how perverse?” and we could have a smoke and a laugh at something so not funny I could cry.
So I’m telling you all of this now. I’m telling you now because I’ve gone along with this charade for too long (years) and after I got a divorce, I kept telling myself (and this is the really scary part) that it all must be a “good” thing (this, I told myself, was The American Dream when really, it is sort of a hybrid of The American Nightmare). That it was the Big Get Even or that, if only I went along with it long enough, something positive might come out the other end because I like Obama and I like the whole notion of hope (or Hope) and Bob Dylan who also gives and gave me a sense of Hope and of fearlessness. So I thought maybe other people have it worse (they do) and that I am lucky (in some ways, I am) – and so I ought not complain, because the first time, after I did “See Something, Say Something,” I was wrong or maybe wrong or anyway, I’ll never know. So where does that leave us then, America? Or where does it leave me?
And so, “If the police don’t believe you,” my mother says…
Actually, I think the police do believe me. Or I think they want to and so they do. It leaves me, who really ought be writing about Dylan and other matters, with only “A restless hungry feeling that don’t mean nobody no good…”
Thanks for listening,