Industry Journal: The Liar (Part IV)

When the Girlfriend and I got off the phone Sunday night, I called my sweetheart. He sounded very tired.
“I’m going to take tomorrow afternoon off. I need some extra time with you before I go back to California,” he said.
I stood in the blue dim of my kitchen, the sun had set unnoticed some time ago; I had not switched on the lights. I nodded, but said nothing.
“I want to make things right…” he said, “start fresh. I mean, I guess it has to be a fresh start.” He chuckled gently, as though this were funny.
“Mm,” I said, to say anything at all.
“Come over tomorrow and let me tell you everything. The whole truth. No more lies. The whole story, beginning to end.”
“Okay,” I said. “Omitting nothing.”
“Omitting nothing,” he confirmed.


He had cooked for me, at his house, for our first date. A close friend of mine had died of a drug overdose earlier that week; his death had struck me like a rock in the face, I cried for an entire day. This, he used as his excuse to the Girlfriend: he told her that Courtney had been a mutual friend of ours, and that he had offered to make dinner for both me and my daughter. He told her later that my three-year-old had been his little sous chef, sprinkling the parsley on top of the risotto; and then falling asleep on his sofa to a Disney movie.


My daughter is nine. She was not there. He made an herb-crusted pork loin and mushroom risotto. It was the same meal he had made for the Girlfriend on their first date; and after we ate, he fucked me in the downstairs bedroom. He wanted to know what I liked in bed, and told me he was kinky and hyper-sexual, but there was only one thing he did not do: Abuse. He wouldn’t let me go upstairs to his actual bedroom: it was a mess, he was embarrassed. (He’d had sex up there with the Girlfriend that morning and the night before. After that, he changed the sheets daily.)


After we fucked, he got dressed and went outside. I heard the double-chirp of the fob to unlock his truck. He needed a cigarette. He was animated when he came back, giddy. Talkative. He told me, among other things that night, that all of his relationships had ended because he was a workaholic. This would have been unremarkable on its own, had he not said next, “Nobody ever questions it when you say you have to work.”
I looked at him, unblinking. I wrote in my journal the next morning: So, this is how you will lie to me.


He didn’t let me stay over. He had to be up early for work. The restaurant had been slated to open a week ago. I know the people he works for; this was on-brand. But he didn’t go to work. That next morning, he and the Girlfriend drove to the coast for a little day trip. A hike. Some beach-combing.


The second time we fucked, on the second date, he told me there was only one thing he never did.
A+ student that I ever was, I giggled and said, “Abuse!”
He stopped me. “Okay, two things,” he said, undeterred, “I don’t do abuse. Never. But I also don’t share.”
“Fine by me,” I said, “just so we’re clear, that means we’re monogamous?”
“Oh yes,” he said, “I need you to myself.”
“Perfect,” I said.


“What about his drinking,” I had asked the Girlfriend earlier, on the phone.
“He always said he wasn’t a big drinker,” she said. “But sometimes there were, like, five whiskey bottles in the recycling.”
“Yeah, he said that to me, too. I thought it was great… I was sober. He told me he didn’t drink beer or wine, and when I asked him what he did drink, he shrugged and said, ‘water?’”


She hadn’t really paid attention to the drinking. She had focused on the discrepancies in his stories. The details changed.
“Like what?” I asked.
“He told me broke up with his ex— the abusive one— in March. But then he said June. And then July. And then August? Late August, I think, actually, was when she moved out. When we first got together in November, I thought, Wow, March is really recent. Should he be dating so soon after a breakup that damaging? But he told me he was in weekly therapy to recover from the narcissistic abuse.”


Discrepancies. The first time he had mentioned the Girlfriend, he told me she had lost her partner. The second time, he said she was going through a bad breakup, and that I must have misheard him. The third time, they were getting back together, even though there were some warning signs. I said, “Maybe they shouldn’t. You’ve been through this, with your ex. You should talk to her.”


“Didn’t you think it was weird how often he went to his truck,” she asked me, “First thing in the morning, like at five? And before bed?”
“Yeah, and at least a couple times in the evening when he was outside smoking and on the phone,” I said. “He said he was getting eye drops.”
“Or antacid.” She said. “Why didn’t he keep that stuff inside?”
“You know, I knew it was either drinking or drugs or a woman… or all three.” I said. “He used to run an errand and not let me come with him at least once every time I stayed over. Was he calling you from the truck?”
“Yep,” she said. “I always wondered why he was always driving. You know, he did that to me, too. And the store is like, under a quarter mile away. Sometimes he’d be gone for an hour. Did you notice him sometimes getting loopier as the night went on?”
“Uh-huh. Or how he’d be suddenly super-alert when he came inside?”
“Yes!” She said.
“That would be drugs,” I said. “For sure cocaine. And maybe muscle relaxants or opioids the other times. There are definitely drugs in his truck.”
“He said he doesn’t do drugs,” she said, “not in like, ten years.”
“Yeah, well, he also said we were monogamous.”
The Girlfriend made a sound of disgust.
“We need to get tested,” I told her.


He always texted the same sentimental goodnight messages before bed, followed by the same pattern of emojis: black hearts and kissy-faces. That night, I texted him goodnight, and he texted back, with no emojis, “Goodnight, Tasia.”


I took my daughter to school the next morning and then drove to the place where my sweetheart and I had gone for a walk on Friday. For all of our mutual friends and connections in the industry, I realized that I didn’t know anyone who truly knew him. I could only think of one person we had in common who might know something, and when I called him, he admitted he didn’t know my sweetheart very well; he played it close to the vest.
I said, “What do you know?”
He said, “Well, he’s fit. He works out a lot. And… he dates a lot of women.”


I walked out on the bluff overlooking the wetlands and the wildlife refuge. Before me, in the shade, was the concrete bench where we had sat and kissed. I stepped up and stood on it, facing the water. I made a second phone call, this one to a psychotherapist friend. I told her I knew I was trying to rationalize what he was doing. The cheating, the lying. I needed more information. I was emotionally entangled. I was still in love, but now there was also trauma. I felt manic and irrational. I had a problem I needed to solve, and I couldn’t.


She had recently told me, in a completely unrelated conversation, that ninety percent of the highest-functioning and smartest people in society are also high-functioning addicts. Nobody is smart enough to catch them, and so they never have to quit. I recognized some of these behaviors in myself. I had a tattoo of my favorite quote about this from a short story around my neck, my personal albatross. It read, “She always believed her own stories as soon as she told them.” It was like being a demigod. I said to her, about my sweetheart, “Is that what this is?”
“Probably,” she said.
I wondered if I should feel pity for him, or empathy. I felt both. I wanted it to stop.
I probed her with questions about recovering from being cheated on, rebuilding trust.
“What you have to find out is whether he is addicted to the intimacy, or the lying.”
“Or both,” I said.
“Or both,” she agreed.


The Girlfriend was working on tracking down the long-term ex. The narcissistic-abusive one who had cheated on him and broken his heart. He’d told us both that he’d been with her for three years and never cheated on her: she had been the love of his life. He had finally worked up the courage to break it off. He said she was awful. Cruel. Toxic.


At the same time, we were also assembling a list of other girls he might either be grooming for a relationship or using for casual sex. Our mutual acquaintance had said, “he dates a lot of women.” Four women in three and a half years— the ex, myself, the Girlfriend, and the Third— didn’t really seem like it qualified as “a lot.” He had a clear physical type, and he did his hunting on social media. He was especially fond of creatives. Artists and musicians, for example. Or writers, like me. We contacted them the way the Girlfriend had contacted me, or the way I had contacted the Third. Some of them blocked us right away. Some of them had probing, suspicious questions. How did we find them, anyway? What made us think that they might be involved in this? Most of them said the same thing: this didn’t sound anything like the man they knew.


To which I replied, “I thought the same thing.”


My sweetheart texted me when he was home from work. He had a couple of phone conferences later in the evening, but asked me to come over as soon as I could. I had a video call, but I could do it from his house. I packed my things and got into the car.


The Girlfriend called. We had been calling each other all day, cross-referencing particular dates. I sat in my parking lot and answered the phone.
“Valentine’s day?” She asked.
“His house,” I said. “I made pizza dough from scratch and brought over the toppings.”
“That fucker,” she said. “You know he’d just asked me to move in, the weekend before that? He told me he was falling in love with me.”
“Oh good god,” I said. “I am so sorry.” He had not been trying to end things with her.
“I’m sorry, too,” she said, “I am. I’m sorry he did this to you.”
We were quiet.
I started the car and began the drive. I told her, “He brought back all the leftover ingredients the next time he came to my house. I thought it was incredibly weird. He said he was working nights and so it’d go to waste. I mean, who brings back half a lemon? Obviously he didn’t want to have to explain it to you. Hey, can I ask you something?” I pulled on to the highway.
“He told me he’d never had a partner who liked to cook. He said he always did all the cooking. That I was the first one.”
“I love to cook,” she said. “We cooked together all the time.”
I let this sink in. “Okay,” I said, “One more thing. What about March 9th?”
The investor meeting. The night he had left me at his house and I had watched his dog drink her own urine.
“Let me look,” she said. “Oh, that’s when I found out about the Third. I confronted him and told him I wanted to take a step back.”
“Did he come over?”
“Did you have sex?”
“What time?”
“Uh, right after work? Five? He stayed pretty late. Like, nine, maybe?”
“There was no investor meeting, then.” I said. “Fuck.”


I was almost to his house. I told her I would text her later and let her know what he had told me. She told me she would let me know what she found out from the long-term ex.


Before I arrived, I called my best friend. He said, “Are you sure this is safe?”
“I don’t know,” I said. I was thinking about my sweetheart’s size. His background in fighting. Stories of bar fights where he blacked out and beat people bloody and unconscious. The little hints of repressed rage. How he fumed about work. How I had heard him screaming on the phone in the back yard once. And how he always said he never, ever got mad.
“I’m not in my right mind,” I said.
“That’s what I’m worried about,” he said.


I let myself into the house. For once, my sweetheart was not freshly-showered. His eyes were bloodshot and his skin puffy and pale. He’d probably been up all night. We stood on opposite sides of the room. We did not even hug. I sat on the footstool of the Eames chair. He sat on the edge of the sofa. I had ten minutes before my call.


I reached out to hold his hand. I said, “I’m looking forward to talking.”
He said, “It’s a simple story, and not a long one.”
I felt a rush of disappointment: he would lie. Had he stayed up all night, lacing together the pieces that he knew I knew?
“I’m looking forward to hearing it,” I said.
“You go do your call,” he said. “I’m going to run to the store.”
“Oh yeah?” I said flatly, “Got another girlfriend to call?” I smirked.
He glared at me.
I said, “I’m a little angry.”
He said, “You have every right to be.”
But I could see it. He was mad.


He left for the store, and I set up my laptop at the table in the kitchen nook. The Girlfriend texted to ask if I had ever stayed at a hotel with him; she had found a keycard on his desk a few weeks prior, with one of my essays. He had insisted the keycard was old— from a business trip. He had told her he was proofreading the essay for me. This made me snort. His writing was terrible; he was unqualified even to edit my child’s homework. No, I told her, I had not. She said, It wasn’t from a business trip. It was a hotel in Portland. A minute later, she texted again: she was in touch with the ex. I told her I was about to start a video call, so I wouldn’t be able to track her updates for that hour, but to send anything relevant along anyway. I’d read it after.


My sweetheart came inside, on the phone. He avoided the kitchen and went upstairs, still talking. I started my meeting, and left my phone face-up next to me. Screen-capture after screen-capture poured in from the Girlfriend. She was talking to the ex. There seemed to be a great deal about money, but I couldn’t read it and work at the same time. I tried to focus on my meeting.


The screen of my phone dimmed with inactivity, and then went black.


The screen lit up. I looked down at it, next to my freckled forearm on the white table. It was not a screen-capture. It was a single sentence, in all caps, from the Girlfriend. It read:



Author: `aqaq`

Tasia Bernie is an essayist, and editor of  She enjoys used bookstores, offal, and hard laughter.  She is a very good eater.  She lives with her daughter and two orange cats in Portland, Oregon.


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