Industry Journal: The Liar (Part VIII)

The Liar had left his house open both weeks he was in Sacramento. The first week, I fed his cats. Monday evening of the second week, I fled, and that was the final time I set foot in his house. The next morning, he departed for California; technically I was still his girlfriend. The back door remained unlocked.

“His house is open,” I said with a shrug, to anyone who asked.

Friday night, at his beloved bar, the Girlfriend, the ex, the Third, and I scooted into a booth and posed together for a group selfie. We posted it on social media. The bar reposted it on their social media.

We ordered drinks. We toasted: “To us.”
To us.
Four tall, dark-haired creatives; we were all empaths with bad boundaries, generous, open-hearted, joy-seeking survivors. We loved the same restaurants.
“How did you know where the drugs were?” Someone asked me.
“He mentioned a drawer,” I said. “I never looked, but I had an idea that’s where anything would be if he was hiding it in the house. And, I understand I was correct.” I smirked.

Two big bags of cocaine, flushed down the toilet next to the compulsively-emptied wastebasket where I’d once spotted the empty bottle of Naltrexone. The water, at least, would end up at a treatment facility.

It’s time to talk about Courtney.
He died at the end of January. He was 44.
His neighbor found the body almost a week later. When she told me this, she wrapped her arms around me, hugging me too tightly, and whispered to me, “I couldn’t leave his house that day without touching him. To check. I kept having to check.”

Courtney was the youngest Senior Vice President Bank of America ever hired. He was thirty-one when I met him; immediately we became best friends. He was a commanding presence in a suit: the tailoring and his physique were both immaculate. Unparalleled: the intensity of his energy, his eye-contact, his quick and serious mind, his intellect. He was the same height as I am, so not very tall for a man, and he was gay. He was a force.

He craved love; he had terrible boundaries. He once saved my life by giving a blowjob at 3 AM to a nurse he’d hooked up with on Grindr in exchange for medical support and Zofran; I had pneumonia, and while unconscious, I’d aspirated my own vomit. If Courtney hadn’t made me sleep next to him that night, I would be dead.

Some years before, I’d dropped by a backyard barbecue of his after having periodontal surgery. I could not eat solid food; I wasn’t even hungry. He puréed one of the blue-cheese burgers he’d made— he was a very good cook and so proud of how they’d turned out— and spoon-fed it to me. I believe I said something like, “from ground beef we come, and to ground beef we shall return.” He was a drunk; so was I. You might not have noticed. At the beginning, anyway, we were the nice kind.

Just before I got pregnant with my daughter, Courtney’s ten-year relationship ended. He lost his job. A spate of bad boyfriends followed. He made it through endless rounds of interviews with other banks but eventually settled into permanent unemployment. The drinking ramped up. Then came ugly fights with the boyfriends, and lies about what had happened. The smartest people make the most effective liars. Who had pushed whom? First a shattered ankle. This must have been the start of the opiates. More drinking, more fighting, more pills. A concussion. Did he fall?

After Thanksgiving— this was 2018— he checked himself into rehab for a month. He told no one. He called me on Christmas Day. His voice was shaky; I had never heard him sound uncertain about anything. He said, “I only took two phone numbers with me. I took my dad’s, and I took yours. I thought about calling you every day. I was afraid you wouldn’t answer. We couldn’t get incoming calls. I didn’t want you to worry.” His voice broke; I cried.

I went to lunch with him the following week. He wore his favorite sweater: gray wool with white stripes. He looked thin and nervous and damp, like a baby bird.

I never saw him again.

We ordered a second round.

The Girlfriend, eyeing me, but speaking to the whole table, said, “If our STD panels hadn’t come back negative, I would have happily shared a knife with you to shank him.”
“We shared everything else.” I fired back, and then paused for effect, “Except a toothbrush.”
“Ooh…” Moaned the other girls, and we burst into laughter.

In the booth, I sat across from the ex. Stories were recounted across the table, or sometimes we paired off and faced each other, telling each other our histories. The bar was dark, and loud. I stopped listening to the stories and watched the ex’s face, her beautiful mournful expressive face. I watched her doubting the last three years of her life. I watched her ebbing trust. I watched her suffer the traumas and pains of the other women at the table. I got up from the table and went around to sit next to her, and I held her.

And then I drank, and I did not stop. I wanted to drink my feelings flat; to drink until I went deaf. In the ex’s face I saw the face I could not bear to let the world see: mine. The day before I discovered the Liar’s lies, I had told a friend I was falling in love and it hurt; it hurt so badly.
My friend said, “Every time. But you have to do it. Dive head-first into the shallow end.”
Okay, I had thought: I can love like this. This is the pain of trust. Of not controlling things. Of growth.

Now I thought: Fuck it. Drown.

Starting around preadolescence, if I went to my father with a problem, he always said the same thing.
“What’s the First Law of Holes?”
My posture went slack, I dropped my head, I sighed. I answered him. “When you find yourself in one, stop digging.”

Courtney relapsed almost immediately after he got home from rehab. He called me, furious that he’d caught his boyfriend drinking behind his back. He could smell it on his breath. He found the empties in the car. And then, one night, they drank together. Courtney tried to get sober again after that; and he managed, for a little while. Was it a week? A month? I don’t know. This time, he didn’t tell me when he relapsed. He didn’t tell anyone. The shame of relapsing silenced him; and in that silence, the substance use stayed, and then increased.

He pushed away almost everyone, with lies, anger, and threats. He pushed away almost everyone, but not me. I stayed clear of him.

In October of 2019, I got the call. Courtney was in the hospital: a stroke. I called Providence; the closest hospital to his house. It was a guess: I asked for his room number. The receptionist asked me my relationship to the patient.
“This is his wife,” I said. He’d run off the last boyfriend. Anyway, he had once been married to a woman. It just happened to not have been me.
“What’s his date of birth?” She asked.
“April fifth, nineteen seventy-seven,” I said. I love birthdays.
“Home address?”
I rattled off the number and street name without even thinking about it. 

She told me his room number. “Would you like to speak with him?” She asked.
Thank god. He could speak.
“No thank you, Ma’am. I’ll call back tomorrow,” I said, with no intention of doing so.

After the stroke there were seizures, sometimes with hours of paralysis; and eventually, two brain surgeries. Courtney started calling me regularly after almost a year of silence. Maybe the shame wore thin once he knew he was not going to recover; there was brain damage. I expect he knew I did not judge him, regardless. He missed me. I missed him. He was tender and thoughtful. He asked about my daughter. We talked about his health. I never asked if he was drinking or using; I knew. We talked about politics. We talked about my love life. We always said “I love you,” to each other before we hung up. I had boundaries; I had distance. I couldn’t save him; I couldn’t even reach him. I could only, in a matter of speaking, hold his hand while he was dying.

Saturday morning, very hungover, I woke to a text from the friend who helped me get sober. I admire him endlessly, probably more than anyone. I had not told him I was drinking again.
He texted, “Are you okay?” Nothing more.
I knew that he knew. I had not told him, but someone had: Incoherent, sloppy drunk. I’m worried about her.
And now I was afraid I was going to lose him. I had fucked up.
I texted back, “I’m okay.”
I was not ready yet, so instead I laid in bed and cried.

There is another story about holes. It’s really more of a parable, but nevertheless, I think of it as the Second Law.*

‘A guy’s walking down a street, when he falls in a hole. The walls are so
steep, he can’t get out. A doctor passes by, and the guy shouts up, “Hey you! Can you help me out?” The doctor writes him a prescription, throws it down the hole and moves on.
Then a priest comes along and the guy shouts up, “Father, I’m down in this hole, can you help me out?” The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole and moves on.
Then a friend walks by. “Hey Joe, it’s me, can you help me out?” And the friend jumps in the hole!
Our guy says, “Are you stupid? Now we’re both down here!” and the friend says, “Yeah, but I’ve been down here before, and I know the way out.”’

I finished crying. I put down my shovel.
I did not lose the friend who helped me get sober.
“Community is woven through love-drenched accountability.”**
This quote, incidentally, comes from a book I gave to the Liar. It was inside this book the Girlfriend found my note.

Courtney’s memorial was at his house; I went alone. The house smelled sour, like old cigarette smoke, and like someone had died in the living room. They’d already hauled the couch to the dump. If there’s anything of sentimental value, his family told me, just take it.

Alone in his bedroom, with the door closed, I went straight to the closet. I knelt before the hanging shirts and sweaters and buried my face in them. They still smelled like him. I breathed in and breathed in, eyes closed, my nose in the crook of his neck; all those thousands of hugs, all those spooned nights; my nose in his thick cropped hair, his hair the same color as mine. I sat back, and worked my way, shirt by shirt, through everything he had owned. I carefully extracted the hanger from the neck of his favorite sweater. Gray wool, with white stripes.

There was a little door in the wall, a miniature closet within the bigger closet. The light clicked on automatically when I opened it. It held his business suits: beautiful, clean, crisp on their hangers. He had looked so handsome; the impenetrable, armored exterior. And inside, alone, he rotted to death; a liar.

I closed the door, and walked out of the house.

Tell the truth.
It is the only thing that will save your life.












*This is a quote from S2E10 of The West Wing, entitled “Noël.”
** The Second Mountain. David Brooks.

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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