Industry Journal: The Liar (Part VI)

The next morning, I laid awake in my bed, remembering back a full week, to the day the Liar had left for his first trip to California; embarking on what would end up being a very long drive. I had invited a friend, a gorgeous young pastry chef, to a prix-fixe pop-up that night. Between small plates of dry aged fish tostadas and grilled pork loin tacos, we giggled and chatted, leaning in across the table in our fancy dresses. She had asked to see a picture of this man I was dating, and I pulled up the one he had sent me from the barbecue he had hosted at his house the week before. A little goodbye party, so his friends could come over and pay their last respects to his dog. I had been at home with my daughter that night, but he had made me feel included, texting photos and sweet little notes. I passed my phone to the pastry chef, and pointed him out.
“Oh, look at how he’s looking at you. Girl, he’s in love,” she said.
“I know,” I said, grinning. But I did not tell her that I had not taken that photo. I had not been there. And now that I looked, she was right. He was smiling with his eyes, and with his whole body. He was looking directly at whoever had taken that photo. With amorousness, and with intensity.

The Girlfriend had taken that photo. He had been all over her that night, showing her off to his friends, holding her hand, kissing her. She liked his friends, and they liked her.

At the end of that next week, after he had put down his dog, he had hosted another gathering. A few friends came over. Some of the same friends. I was at that party. He ordered in Vietnamese; he fed me pickled daikon. He was all over me that night, introducing me to everyone, pulling me into his arms and rarely letting go of my hand, kissing me. His best friend told me I had the best laugh, the most beautiful and genuine laugh.

I wonder what he said to his best friend. Did he tell him that he was leaving one relationship for the other? That it was casual dating? Or did he just say what he had said to me after the Girlfriend had found me: he was trying to break it off, but he was bad at this? Narcissists groom allies the same way they groom victims. I thought about the bar he had taken me to the night before he left; that bar was his baby. He’d taken all of us there. The ex. The Girlfriend. The Third. I thought about the poor bartenders, hearing the same stories over and over again.

The day after he showed me that bar, just before I headed to the pop-up dinner, the Liar began his drive to California. He was driving a 26-foot truck down; he would fly home. I made him a playlist for the trip. He left later in the day than he’d hoped, and I knew it would be a long and exhausting drive over the pass in that big truck, so I did not send texts. The drive would take nine hours, and when I had done it in the past, I always drove it in one shot, straight through.

He called me at six in the evening the next night. I was at the edge of the river, on a walk with my daughter.
He said, “You’re not going to like this.”
I furrowed my brow. The thing I actually do not care for is presumptuous language.
“Are you okay?” I asked. My daughter skipped down across the stones to the water’s edge. I looked out at the glinting river. Tulip trees bloomed purple along the Eastbank Esplanade.
“It took me sixteen hours to get here. The truck broke down four times. I slept in the cab.”
“Sixteen?” I was shocked, “God, that’s terrible.”
“Not sixteen. I meant twenty-six.”
“Twenty-six.” I said. Geese were landing on the water.
“I could only catch 35 going uphill over the pass. The clutch kept slipping out of gear. It was harrowing. I drove all night. I had to stay with the truck waiting for service guys.”
“I’m glad you made it,” I said.
“I’m exhausted,” he said, “Baby, your playlist really saved me. I listened to it all night. It’s what got me through.”
I was touched. “Oh, wow,” I said, “I’m glad you liked it. Can you get some rest now?”
“Yeah,” he said, “I’m going to take a long shower and go to sleep early.”

Now, a week later, still in bed after having fled his house the night before, I texted the Liar a perfunctory good morning.

He asked how I was doing. I was getting by. I asked how he was. He did not want to be leaving for another week in California. He had not really slept. He did not say anything about missing me or wishing he could be with me, and I noticed that with some irritation, but also I was grateful, because I was not going to lie and say those things back.

He asked what he could do for me, to take care of me.
Oh, right, the panic attack.
I said, “Tell me everything you were going to tell me last night.”
He told me to give him ten minutes.
I said okay. I got out of bed and got out a new yellow legal pad and a new Pilot G-2 pen. I was ready.

He began at the beginning. It was boring. A chronological rehashing of his serial monogamy— well, monogamy maybe— he made sure to announce “she cheated on me” after naming each woman he’d had a long-term relationship with, like it was her pedigree. I took notes. When he got to the narcissistic ex, whom he was with for three years, he told me he had wanted to spend the rest of his life with her. He told me, as he had told me before, that she had proposed to him two years into the relationship, and then rescinded the proposal a week later. He said it eviscerated him. They began sleeping separately. He said this was a decision he agreed to only if they were able to keep their intimacy. But for the last six or seven months of the relationship, she would not even allow him to come upstairs in their house. He asked her to make love; she said no. He had wanted to be done with the relationship, he said to me, but she grabbed his hands and told him she wanted all of it, him, everything.

I wrote this all down, rolling my eyes at the soap-opera storytelling.

She left him love notes but also shunned him. He told me he knew he was boring to her. She judged him for the financial issues he was having with the mother of his child. She grew distant, she traveled for work. He found her journal and discovered she had cheated on him while she was away. He said he confronted her by calmly saying, “I believe this needs to end.” He said she screamed at the top of her lungs and refused to speak to him about it. I asked him if they often fought, and he said no, almost never— in fact, only three times. He finished his story: he said that he was told by a psychologist that his ex was “constructing a narrative” and that he needed to “get out right now.” He broke it off, and because he had done nothing wrong and had been the one who had wanted things to work, it seemed fair that he should keep the house.

Constructing a narrative. Get out right now.
I looked at the words I had written on the page, and remembered the text message in all caps on my phone the night before. Get out.

I asked him if there were any personal financial issues between him and his ex. He said no. I asked him why she ended the engagement. He said he didn’t know. Something about her complaining about his piles. I asked what the piles were and he said he didn’t know. I asked if they were physical piles, like a mess? He didn’t know. Was it about money between them? No. I kept my voice submissive and curious, hoping it would encourage him to open up to me. I watched myself doing this, and felt disgust at playing this role.
I said, “We’ve never fought, so I’ve never seen that side of you. What are you like when you fight?”
“I am quiet and calm,” he said. “I have raised my voice few times in my life.”

I moved on to other questions. He told me he met the Third at a bar, briefly. He said they weren’t dating-dating. He’d only been intimate with her a couple of times. I asked if there was any overlap with our relationship and he said no. I asked him how much overlap there was between the Third and the Girlfriend.
“There was a lot of overlap,” he said. I wondered what this meant, if they weren’t really dating and weren’t really intimate.
I said, “When did you stop sleeping with the Girlfriend?”
Previously he’d told me it was weeks ago.
He said, “I didn’t.”
I said, “You never stopped sleeping with her.”
He said, “I was trying to distance myself.”
Bullshit, I thought. I did not bring up the fact that he’d just asked her to move in with him, or that they had first class tickets to Mexico for a vacation in a few weeks.
He said, “I know I have a problem with seeking validation with as many people and as many things as I can.”
I thought, how smart of him to name his flaws, in order to make himself sound self-aware and humble. It meant nothing. He was not going to stop. I changed the subject to alcohol.

He said he was never a big drinker. (I remembered lying in bed with him after sex: he recounted countless stories about wild nights partying and getting wasted starting when he was in his teens.) He said that the drinking started when he got into the industry here and was opening the bar. A pint of whiskey a day. The drinking ramped up because of the reneged engagement, he said. He was drinking all day. Shots in the morning, shots at lunch, shots at night. A fifth of whiskey every day that year. He said he’d stopped doing that in December. He’d been doing his best to taper off, and now he was drinking less than a pint a day. He’d have a drink or two at lunch with the guys. He’d stop at a bar on the way home, sometimes.

The Girlfriend had told me he’d routinely come home with pocketfuls of loose cash— ones and fives. Strip club trips. It was a regular thing for him after work, she said. She had told me which strip clubs he favored, and even the names of some of the dancers. I asked him if he went to strip clubs, and he said he’d only been to one once in the last year.

Now I had questions about the Girlfriend.
He told me, of the Girlfriend, “I loved her, but I wasn’t in love with her.”
I said, “How much overlap was there between us? Did you ever see us on the same day?”
“Only once,” he said.
“When?” I asked.
He didn’t remember. I knew from cross-referencing calendars with the Girlfriend that it had happened almost every day.
I said, “You told me that the two things you don’t do in a relationship are cheating and abuse. You’ve done a lot of cheating, how about abuse?”
“I’ve never been abusive in any way,” he said.
I said, “Nothing? No physical intimidation?”
In the screen-captures between the Girlfriend and the ex, the ex had written, “He put me in physical danger.”
He said no.
I said, “Never even grabbed anyone or anything? Never laid a hand on anyone?”
He said, “Never.”
I said, “You’re so good at this it seems to me like you’ve been doing this a long time. How many other women have you slept with? Any of your female friends?”
“No. None. I’ve never cheated before this,” he said, “I’m not a sociopath. I’m not a bad person.”
I said, “Are you a pathological liar?”
He said, “No, but I tend to lie by omission.”
I wrote this down. My notes had filled four pages.
I said, “What’s going to happen when I find out you’re still lying to me?”
I said, when.
He said, “I don’t know what you would find out that wouldn’t be true.”
A grammatical masterpiece.

He said, “It didn’t feel good to do it. It didn’t feel good at all. It felt good to be with you. It felt good to be with the Girlfriend. She’s a wonderful woman.”
“Yes,” I said, “She is.”
I did not tell him it felt good to be with him. He no longer felt like a real person to me. He had lied to me so much in the last hour and a half, about things I knew to be untrue, that it felt like theater. What a monster.
I said, as though everything were okay, as though he had cleared the air, as though I believed him, “Thank you for this. Talk to you later.”

I checked the time. I had an hour before my next phone call. I showered and made breakfast. I carefully tore my notes from the yellow pad along the perforation, tapped them on my desk to straighten them, and stapled them together. I arranged the clean notepad and pen in front of me, and tried to prepare myself mentally. I figured that in the meantime, I should call the Girlfriend and give her the updates, even though there wasn’t much. Just the little bit about booze, and the doubling-down on lies.
“I still want to know about that keycard,” she said. “I wish I could remember the name of the hotel. I’m still waiting to hear back from a couple of the other girls on Instagram,” she added. “Do you think we should go back further, and contact any of the other women he was seeing, before the ex?”
“Maybe,” I said, “It’s up to you. I do wonder if any one of them caught him cheating, though.”
“I’ll think about it.”
I told her I was getting ready to call the ex. I was still thinking about his first trip to California.
“Hey so when he went to California, what did he tell you about the drive?” I asked her.
“He told me he was getting really tired after a few hours,” she said, “I told him, ‘Babe, just stop in Ashland and get a hotel room.’”
“Did he?”
“Yeah,” she said. “He said spent the night in Ashland. He called me the next morning.”
“He told me his truck broke down four times on that drive and he slept in the cab,” I said. “No hotel.”
“Ugh,” she said.
“He was real sketchy about when he was going to come back this weekend, too,” I said. “He told me he was probably going to have to stay until Sunday, and I was disappointed because I was hoping to spend that weekend with him… no kiddo. And he said he’d try to see if he could change his ticket to come back Friday.”
She made a noise of irritation. “I was supposed to fly down on Friday to spend the weekend with him,” the Girlfriend said, “I have the tickets. He was like, ‘There are so many great places I want to show you down here. And we can do Molly and fuck all night.’”
“Well, that explains that,” I said, “Alright. I’ll call you back after I talk to the ex.”

And then I called his ex.

She had the kindest voice. Her voice sounded like heartbreak felt: a vessel of loss, aching, open, tender. She was so sorry, this was all devastating to learn about. She asked if I was okay. She listened to me. I told her I had a lot of questions, and some of them would be very personal, and if at any time she was uncomfortable or didn’t want to answer or needed to stop, I understood. She said she would share everything, and that she was a compulsive journaler, and so she had notes from their entire relationship at hand.  I grinned: my people.

They moved in after seeing each other for six months. He’d had a bankruptcy not long before, and so he had no credit. She had found the house for them, and the lease was in her name. They started a business together. The business credit cards were also in her name. He was supposed to pay half the rent, but didn’t. He maxed out the credit cards.
I asked her if she knew what he had spent it on.
“Stuff for the business, I guess,” she said, “but I trusted him. I never checked the statements or anything.”
Debt accrued faster than she could pay it down working her regular job.
Even when he was unemployed, he was gone every day from six in the morning until nine at night. He must have had side-jobs as an excuse. She was lonely; she had no family, he was all she had. I asked her if she ever thought he was cheating. She said she hadn’t, not back then, but it was normal for him never to be home. In hindsight, it was certainly possible. She never would have known. Nights and weekends, he always said he was at work. She started grad-school, to have something to fill her time in the evenings.

She took out twenty-thousand dollars in personal loans to pay off the business debt.
She found out he owed double that in child support, which he said he had paid directly to his daughter’s mother. She told him all he needed to do was get a note from the mother saying he had paid it directly to her, and send that to the Court.
“Why didn’t he do that?” I asked. He had only ever said nasty things about his child’s mother to me. “The Court specifically tells you to pay it through their system,” I continued, “people in high-conflict situations like that don’t pay the money directly to their exes. Do you think he was telling the truth about having given her that money? Where would that money even have come from, if he was always broke?”
“Yeah,” she said, “that’s certainly possible.”

Halloween evening, 2020, the Liar and ex took Molly and sat in the front yard, handing out candy to trick-or-treaters. They both felt delight at seeing people outside after so much time shut-in during the early months of the pandemic, and in that moment, the Liar spontaneously proposed to her. There was no ring. She was also high, and had said yes. A week later, worrying over the maxed-out credit cards, his non-payment of rent, and concerns about outstanding child-support debt, she realized she could not marry him. He would have to get his finances straightened out first.

“Did you guys ever fight?” I asked.
“Oh,” she said, “Constantly. Pure rage. We screamed at each other all the time.”
“He screamed?”
“Yes,” she said, and there was more. He would corner her, charge at her, push her down in chairs. Grab her by the face. She once ran barefoot from the house to get away from him.
“Was he drinking?”
“Maybe? Yes? There was whiskey pretty regularly,” she said. But she drank, too. Maybe he was drinking a lot, but she wasn’t really paying attention to that. For her, everything centered around the money. The fighting, however, was constant.
She said, “He would contradict me during arguments so he could remember things his way.” That drove her crazy.

Constructing a narrative.

I asked about the sleeping arrangement.
She said, “I’m a light sleeper… I think a lot of women are. And he snored.”
It was his decision to sleep in another bedroom. It had not been something she had wanted. I asked her if they’d stopped having sex. She said no, they had sex all the way until the end of the relationship.

“Did you cook?” I asked. I could not help but ask this question. Something about it was more painful for me than the other lies. Perhaps this had to do with the fact that I was working on a book about how sharing food makes us human.
“He would never let me. I love to cook. I’m a good cook. He wouldn’t even let me chop vegetables. He would make me sit and wait.”

At the end of the relationship, she did have an indiscretion, which she did write about in her journal. Only a few days had passed, and she was figuring out how to tell him and end things when he confronted her. She asked him to leave; the house had been in her name. He refused, and then, without her knowledge, called their landlord and had his name put on lease. After that, he physically intimidated her for weeks, until finally, feeling that she had no choice, she fled her own home.

“He probably couldn’t get a lease because of his credit,” I said, “and if he wasn’t paying you rent… he had nowhere to go.”

She moved into a small apartment and blocked him. She had no interest in reconnecting. He got through to her by email when the dog was dying, around the time I met him, in early February. She had gone over to visit the dog, on the condition that she would not have to see the Liar. He left two letters for her, and a small rock, which I knew he had found on the trip he had taken to the coast with the Girlfriend the day after our first date.

“I carry stones; they help with my anxiety,” she said. That was beautiful.
She read me the letters. He still loved her. He had continued to email her after that, including sending an email from the hotel his admin had booked for him in Redding when he had driven to Sacramento the previous week. She read me that letter, too. In it, he wrote that he yearned to see her again. I loved talking with her on the phone. I thanked her. We said our goodbyes.

Redding. Not Ashland.

In the email, he had described skipping stones across the water next to the hotel in Redding. I imagined the Sacramento River. I remembered dead dog night: the gathering of friends. One of the girls there— an old friend, he said— had mentioned to him she was probably heading down to Shasta the next week.
“Oh perfect,” said the Liar. He came and wrapped his arms around me and kissed my neck while talking to her. Then, when he went outside to start the bonfire, I tried to ask her some questions, to engage in polite conversation; but she didn’t seem to want to talk. She seemed intimidated, awkwardly staring into her glass in the otherwise-empty kitchen. Shasta cleaved to the next person to walk in the door— some vapid chick who appeared to be a stranger to her as well— and they proceeded to get high-speed wine-drunk together on four bottles of trash. The Girlfriend told me she’d had a similar experience with Shasta when they’d met: the silence, the discomfort, Shasta’s heavy drinking.

He had not driven all night. He had told the Girlfriend he had stayed in Ashland. He had told me he had slept in the cab of the truck. And he had told the ex that he was thinking about her while he skipped stones in Redding. Why had he lied to us? Who was there with him? Someone was, surely. Surely this had always been the plan.

It’s a short drive, Shasta to Redding. Ten minutes. Fifteen minutes, tops.

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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