I came across the photograph this morning looking for something else. I took it at the beginning of our trip to Cuba two years ago now. It was the afternoon we arrived in Old Havana. In the photo, you are standing with your left side toward me. You are looking at me. You have your arms crossed, your ubiquitous hoody tied around your waist, the same canvas Kuhl jeans on that you still wear and which now have grown threadbare and faded at the crotch where you “dress right” (as T told me they call it in fancy custom tailors). There is an old woman walking behind you, her back to me. I remember watching her walk past, tiny, skinny jeans, black blouse with big roses printed on it, her hair dyed pink and tied up.
Perhaps I will resituate this paragraph by changing your location in relation to me and mine in relation to you. You will become he and him to me. And T will become you to me. I will try it again:
I came across the photograph this morning looking for something else. I took it at the beginning of a trip to Cuba two years ago now. It was the afternoon he and I arrived in Old Havana. In the photo, he is standing with his left side toward me. He is looking at me. He has his arms crossed, his ubiquitous hoody tied around his waist, the same canvas Kuhl jeans on that he still wears though they have grown threadbare and faded at the crotch where he “dresses right” (the phrase you told me they use in tailors to inquire whether a man wears his cock to the right of his fly or the left, something you discovered years ago when you ordered a suit on a trip with your father). There is an old woman walking behind him, her back to me. I remember watching her walk past, tiny, skinny jeans, black blouse in a silky fabric with big roses printed on it, her hair dyed pink, tied up.
When T first saw this photograph, he said that you look like the devil. In the picture you can see the two bumps on your forehead, one a lump of bone, the result of an injury, the other a lump of soft tissue. Though the bumps are not symmetrical, they suggest horns. I learned much later that when I recounted to you how a trans woman I met, at a party you took me to, asked me if you had gotten them done, you decided to have the tissue one removed.
Ok. Let’s try that again:
When you first saw this photograph, you said he looked like the devil. I thought you said it because you were jealous. But now I imagine that you could see his cheating and his lies even if you could not have identified what it was that struck you about his look.
I thought I could discern when he was leaving something out or outright lying. I sensed things, which compelled me to ask, and which prompted him to lie.
I thought that if I asked the right question I would get the truth.
Sometimes I still think that. Sometimes I’m not sure. I have this notion that he did not see himself as a liar. He just left things out, minimized, obfuscated, deflected. He intended to state something in such a way that it wasn’t a lie. Except it was a lie because it was rhetorically designed to deceive, to conceal, to lead astray, to evoke misinterpretation, misapprehension, ultimately to control.
You see, I am very good at this language thing. So when I sensed some barely imperceptible change in diction or the pace of responses to texts I started asking questions to uncover what I sensed was being concealed. And he started his habitual dissembly. My questions had to be surgical in their precision or I would get the deflection, the clever insinuation, tampering with reality, the question in response to a question, so he could avoid answering at all. For example, in response to the question – “are you surveilling me?” – he answered “how would I do that?” I think that’s a yes. But I will never know because he has refused ever to answer that question, though I have asked it multiple times. He will never be able to convince me that he has not, at times, spied on me in cyber-space through my phone.
I question whether I was complicit, because I wanted him to tell me the truth. Did I want to believe his lies? And so did I not push hard enough against the inconsistencies I discerned?
I thought if I asked the right question he would answer it with the truth.
And maybe for awhile he did. Or maybe he never did. Or maybe he only did when he thought I would leave if he didn’t.
I should be more specific. He could be having sex with someone else but deny it when I asked because they weren’t having intercourse just then and that is the definition he was using for ‘sex’ in his answer. So I had to take a granular approach and ask about specific acts. Had he fucked her? No. Had he licked her pussy? No. Had he stimulated her clitoris manually? No. Had he stimulated her clitoris with a toy? Yes.
This level of dissembly requires so much energy to uncover on the deceived one’s part as to be exhausting and lead to a feeling of indifference at best, despair at worst. The detailed dissection of acts and locations and times required to detect such deceptions either makes you want to give up and collude in your own duping or become obsessed with excavating his interactions to uncover the signs of betrayal, the traces of untruths, the vestiges of omissions, the artifacts of delusion.
I miss him. I have that thought and then I remind myself I don’t know him. What I miss is my construction of him.
I finally broke it off completely. I broke it off because I realized that I could not imagine interacting with him without grappling with an obsessive desire to know what he had done with whom and when, even though I didn’t ever want to have sex with him again, didn’t want to consider a shared life anymore.
To put this another way. I broke it off because I realized I could not reconcile the man I thought I knew, with whom I had made plans for the future at one time, discussed the educational challenges faced by his kids. The man I guided toward a compassionate and informed preparation for his daughter’s first menstruation (and for which he would have been totally unprepared). The man with whom I developed design solutions for house renovations.
This same man, who felt like a dear friend, and at times a partner to me, and whom I thought understood me and accepted me, loved me, was fucking around all the time and lying about it compulsively. And every time he did he took my choices away. Every time he did he denied me the opportunity to choose to put myself in that situation or not. He claimed he lied because he thought I was trying to control his sexuality. And so by lying he controlled mine.