“I guess it’s a good thing I got more wine.”
I opened my eyes and lifted my head painfully. I tried to figure out where the voice was coming from. And where I was. Slowly I focused in on her and the room surrounding her, and it all came back to me. I was on the couch. In Nicole’s living room. At her house in San Diego. With an almost empty wine bottle on the coffee table next to me. I rolled away from her, trying not to cause my head anymore trauma. I was using her dog as a pillow and he shifted his large, comforting chest beneath me. I snuggled into him.
I could hear Nicole move to the kitchen. She was home from work, so it must be around 6pm. I wished I hadn’t woken up. “Oh. Yeah. Sorry,” I said. I closed my eyes again.
Running the span of Manhattan, East to West, is 57th Street. You can literally take a bus on 57th from the East River all the way to the Hudson. Not that John and I ever took the bus. We took cabs, like civilized people.
It had been a little less than a year since we’d met on that sound-stage. And as promised, we’d both traveled back and forth to see each other until, eight months into the relationship, I’d sold my car, gotten rid of my apartment, said goodbye to my agents and moved to John’s townhouse in Michigan.
A few months later, he was transferred to the NYC office of his agency, which had been all part of the plan. Once we arrived in New York and were set up in the company-paid-for luxury 57th Street apartment with multiple doormen, rows of elevators and a huge, marble lobby, I was to revive my acting career and spend the rest of my time working on the sorority book. John didn’t want me to get a day job – he said I didn’t need to since he made enough money to support both of us. This was a good thing as, although I’d made a very lucrative living as a commercial actress, my union had been on strike for awhile and work had been lean before I’d left LA. I was running out of money quickly. I was really happy at that time. I was engaged to the man I loved, had my days free to myself and man, oh man, did I ever love New York.
So you see, Shannon? Things really were awesome. Just like I said they would be.
There was just one little problem. Well, I wouldn’t call it a ‘problem’ exactly. It wasn’t really that big of a deal. Okay, maybe more of an ‘issue.’ If you could really even label it that. Perhaps more of a ‘bump in the road.’ And that ‘bump in the road’ was – there seemed to be another woman claiming to be John’s girlfriend.
I’d still been in L.A. when she’d emailed me, with a forwarded group of messages between her and John, date-stamped during the time that we were a long-distance couple. I’d been more confused than anything else. It had been then, when I’d called John in Michigan to question him, that he’d unfolded the harrowing tale.
She was a woman from his work who he’d had a brief fling with before we’d even met. Unfortunately, she was having a hard time letting go. She would break into his house and put folded pictures of herself in his pants pockets for him to find later. She would call him constantly to the point he had to block her number. She had even, somehow, found a copy of my head-shot, made numerous other copies of it and then taped them all over his car one morning. How terrifying! How horrible! For both of us! The only possible explanation for this email debacle, John stated, was that she had gotten a hold of his laptop at work and taken intimate messages between he and his ex-girlfriend from years prior and then edited them to make them look like they were recently written between the two of them.
Obviously, that was very plausible. So we moved along with our plan.
But there was this one thing. This one thing that kept nagging at me. And that was – I wasn’t so sure she wasn’t telling the truth. My friend Remy and I had gone over and over the emails and couldn’t really find any sort of conclusive evidence that they’d been doctored. My mind flashed back to our time at Shutters, the late night calls to our room, the times I’d found him in the bathroom talking on his cell in a hushed tone. The times when he seemed to drop off the face of the Earth for a few days. And then re-emerge like nothing had happened. But still, I moved to Michigan. And then to New York, to be with him.
I got into an unpleasant routine of bringing her up at the worst possible times. We would be having a lovely dinner at our NYC apartment of roasted chicken and brie from the D’Agostino on the corner, accented with Vueve Clicquot and then I’d say, “Okay, but so why in June were those magazines with her home address on them, at your apartment? How could that be, if you weren’t in contact?” “Why was there a curling iron and female hair products in your bathroom in the townhouse?” “How was she able to figure out how to break into your laptop?” “Why did I find a thong in your moving boxes here?” This went on and on and on and he got angrier and angrier and angrier.
So I decided to give the woman a call.
And she had a lot to say.
“Remember when the Northeast blackout happened and you couldn’t reach him? He was with me.” “Remember when you got in a fight over New Year’s Eve when you were still in L.A. and he wouldn’t answer your calls? He was with me.” “Remember when you were supposed to come out for Thanksgiving and he changed the plan last minute? He was with me.” “Remember when remember when remember when…?”
I wish I could say that I left him then. That would have been the strong and impressive thing to do and then I could write about it here and you could all applaud me and put comments like, “You GO girl!” and “To the left, to the left, to the LEFT!” But that’s not what happened. Instead, I stayed. Because I loved him. And I still hoped for the one thing he could say, the one thing, that I could hold on to to make me believe he was telling the truth. And I tried to get it by harassing him constantly.
One night, in February of 2005, we were in bed. He was reading. And I was sick to my stomach. Earlier in the day, I’d come across some suits of his in the closet with a dry-cleaning receipt dated only a few weeks before I’d moved to Michigan. And her name had been listed on it as the contact. I asked him about it.
He didn’t even look at me. “You either believe me, or you don’t. It’s that simple.”
“I…,” I shuddered. It was one of those moments. I knew at that moment, if I said I believed him, I would have to commit to that. And I could never bring up my suspicions again. I had to let it go. We couldn’t live like this anymore. But the thing is, you can’t just not believe what you believe. Even if you want to more than anything. So, I said nothing.
He turned the page of his book. “I want you out by Friday.”
“What? What do you mean?” I sat up. My heart was racing by this point and I was speaking very fast. “Listen John, I just need you to tell me the truth. I don’t even care if you had an affair. I believe that it’s over now – that you’re committed to me. I just need you to tell me what happened. Just tell me the truth. Please.”
My voice was shaking. “But where will I go?”
“I don’t care.” And I think I remember him smiling faintly.
“But what will become of me? I have nothing anymore.” I was practically wailing at this point.
And then he said, “That is not my concern.”
I spent the night crying to myself on the couch. I had no idea what would happen to me. My whole future had been planned with him. And now, it was gone. My life was suddenly a black void.
The next morning, John left for work, business as usual and, for lack of any other alternatives and with a trembling hand, I called Nicole.
And then, I left for Fantasy Island.
Nicole is my other best friend from high school. I called her San Diego home ‘Fantasy Island’ because it reminded me of the large, airy, inviting house from the 1970s/80s TV show. There were palm trees and spans of grass and flower beds surrounding it and, on each of the two floors, comfortable terraces lit by tea-lights. She would always have cozy new robes for her guests, with matching slippers and she would make us amazing exotic meals and pair it with huge goblets of white wine. We would spend our evenings lounging in the hot-tub or wrapped in fuzzy blankets on the couch, watching Desperate Housewives. Or maybe having a Dance Party.
When I arrived at her house, I was completely shell-shocked, speechless even. Nicole immediately bundled me up in a robe and set me up in a spare bedroom. I spent the first few days lying on her couch, drinking wine and singing my sad stories to her solid dog, Wentworth. Because it was only at that time, I knew what was true. Some nights were so bad, with the anxiety of not knowing what was going to happen to me and the sadness of what I had lost, I would have to crawl into bed with her because I couldn’t bear to be alone. But neither she nor Wentworth complained of my fitful, restless sleep, which I’m sure woke them up repeatedly.
Eventually, I got to the point where I could face chunks of hours sober and Nicole and I set up a game plan. Going back to L.A. was not an option. I had no money so couldn’t get an apartment or a car there. I’d changed my hair so I’d have to pay to get new head-shots, regain the trust of my agents and probably waitress at night to make ends meet. I wasn’t sure I was up for that. And I also wasn’t sure I wanted to go back there. I really loved New York. So we decided I would live with her, get a job at her company, use her company car, save up $10,000 and then go back to NYC. We figured it would take about a year. Once I returned, I would then start acting again.
Nicole appeared at the couch with a crisp glass of white and a plate of tortilla chips and fresh guacamole. Which she’d just made. She looked the epitome of power and glamour, befitting a successful Vice President of a Market Research firm, in her creme colored designer dress with to-die-for heels. She sat down next to me and Wentworth and took a sip of wine. “I talked to Brent today.”
I opened my eyes and looked at her. “You did? What did he say?”
“He said he’d hire you.”
I pulled myself up to sitting. “Really? Oh my god.” For the first time in weeks, I had hope. Brent was the President of her company and she’d lobbied for him to hire me as his new assistant. “Thank you. I don’t know what to say. I promise I won’t let you down.”
“I know,” she replied, nodding.
“Really. Thank you.” I could feel my eyes welling up with tears. Which I knew would annoy her.
She sighed. “I’m not going to let you take the job.”
“What? Why?” I wiped my eyes.
“Because you have to go back to New York.”
“I will go back. In a year, like we planned.”
“No,” she said slowly. “You need to go back now.”
“Now? I can’t go back now. I don’t have any money. I don’t have a place to live. I don’t know how to work. No, not now.” I flopped back on the couch and buried my head under Wentworth’s chin. The thought of being anywhere but Fantasy Island and without Nicole and Wentworth’s comforting presence, was overwhelming to me.
“You have to.”
“Do you not want me here?” I whimpered as I looked up at her. “I promise I won’t be drunk all the time. I’ll get it together.”
She laughed then. “No, it’s not that. I actually like you being here. And I have every faith that you’ll get it together. It’s just that if you stay, you’re going to become complacent. You’re going to create a life here. And I worry that you’ll never go back to New York then. And I really believe that is where you are meant to be. Don’t worry, I’ll help you. I just think there are great things waiting for you there.”
“I don’t even know how to take the subway!” I cried.
“You’re going back.”
“I’m not ready. I’m too heartbroken to go back there. I can’t face it. Those reminders, I-”
She would not be swayed. “You’re going back.”