I’d wanted to hold some sort of anniversary party for my company for the last few years. But, the year it turned five, I was deep in the mud of moving and putting together our wedding, so another big party was simply out of the question. A year later, I felt like I could manage it. Working with children, and the anniversary being in August, I wanted to do something fun, family friendly, and low budget.
I rented the pavilion at a local park near the center of my student base. I decided to host a potluck (I’m a big fan of potlucks. The wedding was a potluck, as well, in lieu of gifts). Students had the opportunity to complete challenges over the summer to earn fake money, redeemable for prizes at our anniversary party in August. I set up bluetooth speakers with fun music, bought 700 quick-fill water balloons, and adorned the pavilion with balloons, including a large, hot pink number six.
Some backstory here. For the fourth of July that year, my then-fiance, Bernie, was obsessed with escape rooms. We gathered a group of friends to all book the same time and space for one we hadn’t tried yet. Our system was to all agree on which slot to book, and pounce. Sadly, the only two people who were my friends, and not those of my fiancee, were used to booking a whole room and splitting the cost with whatever size group showed up, guaranteeing the room to themselves… like grown-ups. But, I didn’t have the cash to do that. Bernie did, but that would have risked him losing money of any sort, which was unacceptable in his world. They showed up to check in, had no reservation, and had to sadly leave. We completed the room with his friends, two neighbors, and other strangers who had hopped onto the same time slot as us, and I was heartbroken. Alas. It was surely my fault for not communicating with my friends clearly enough.
One of our neighbors was… a lot. We wanted to continue time with friends, but knew he would be a bit much. We claimed to have a birthday party for another friend/coworker of Bernie’s (it was, in fact, her birthday) and went to a brewery nearby to celebrate our victory and viciously laugh at escaping an annoying acquaintance, as well. Bwahahahahha. No, I’m not actually proud of that. But, enough time with a narcissist and you’ll do some terrible things, too. It becomes a bizarre sort of normal.
Bernie went to college with an odd guy named Jerry. Of all colleges I’ve heard people regale tales of, Texas A&M seems to be the cultiest. And, the two of them were in the thick of that cultiness a decade after graduating. They watched football together, played video games in the off-season, but most importantly: they drank. A lot. Both worked in some capacity for the state government. They’d met as meteorology students, and Jerry graduated as one. Bernie couldn’t handle the math and finished with a political science degree and just enough knowledge of weather to be an asshole to other people.
I was glad Bernie had such a close friend, but Jerry was weird. His hands constantly shook. I knew he had a drinking problem beyond Bernie’s, and that the two of them together could be unhealthy, but all I felt I could do was provide a well-hosted home and hope for the best. At the brewery, Jerry went off about some animal and its poop. Over and over and over again. The good christian couple (isn’t there always one?) split off to see family and avoid any more time around Jerry.
Onward we went! Bernie, Jerry, and I continued on to a gastropub for more beer and food. From there, we decided to make a liquor store run and party at our place. Jerry had brought his computer over to have Bernie help him set up some group game he, his brother, and the good christian couple all liked to play. Unloading it from his car, Bernie dropped the monitor and it broke. At the time, Jerry said no worries. He had thought the base was securely attached, it wasn’t, he had another one at home they went to get. Friends. Bygones. Accidents happen.
Jello shots and whatever else later, Bernie passed out in our bed. We had talked Jerry into staying the night since he was so drunk. Jerry really never spoke to me. I knew almost nothing about him. And here we were, just the two of us still up. I tried to start a conversation, tried to maybe take this moment to get to know my soon-to-be-husband’s ostensibly best friend. He was quickly uncomfortable. He squirmed, as though speaking to me was too much for him to handle. He got up and said he had to leave, he had to go home. I had some idea how drunk he was. I knew I shouldn’t be driving, and I’d had significantly less than he had. I also knew he had woken up in a hospital and had to search for his car outside a strip club because he’d passed out and was picked up by EMS. Another time, he drunkenly fell over and split his head on an open door only for Bernie to try, and fail, to find his insurance card he had never opened. He refused to give any personal information at an emergency clinic, demanding they simply stitch him up without prying into such private information as his name.
I asked why this happens. He was supposedly going to stay one other time a few years before, and when it got late freaked out about needing cigarettes. Bernie drove him to a convenience store, I followed in Jerry’s car. We took him home since Bernie said it was no use arguing with him. At my inquiry into this pattern, Jerry turned to me, spitting,
“You’re not my fucking therapist.”
“No. But, I want to understand. You’re here every weekend. You have dinner with us. You’re too drunk to drive, why can’t you just sleep on the futon?”
“You think I’m too drunk to drive?!”
“Yes. You’re too drunk to drive.”
Before I knew it, he stomped into the bedroom and demanded from a passed-out Bernie,
“Do YOU think I’m too drunk to drive?! SHE thinks I’m too drunk to drive.”
Bernie, very helpfully, mumbled something like, “Probably.” and passed back out.
“Please, just let me call you an Uber or a Lyft. Your choice. It’s on me. We can bring your car to you first thing in the morning, as early as you need. Just, please don’t drive. Do you like Uber or Lyft?”
"Great! It’ll be here in five minutes."
He started ripping apart his computer, trying to carry it all out the door. He slipped on the stairs outside. I got in front of him to ask,
“What are you doing?”
“I’m going home.”
“I can help you load that in the Lyft if you want.”
The Lyft driver pulled up.
“I’m not getting in that.”
“You said you’d take a Lyft if I ordered it for you…”
I stepped away to ask the driver to please, just wait a moment. I apologized and explained that my friend wasn’t okay to drive and thanked him for his patience.
Jerry went to get into his own car.
“Just get in the Lyft. He’s here. It’s on me. We’ll bring your car first thing in the morning.”
“If you don’t get out of my way, I’ll sue you both for my broken monitor.”
And at that moment, I was done. I knew who he was. He was a snake in my home, threatening my fiance in order to drive drunk home.
I told the Lyft driver to go. I offered for him to still make the drive, and I’d pay him for it. He declined, and took off to find another passenger.
I turned to Jerry.
“Fine. I’m the big, bad fucking bitch for not wanting you to die. You wanna kill yourself? Go ahead. But, you could hurt or kill other people in the process.”
He got into his car and drove off.
I was left alone outside the apartment, with a barrage of feelings I’d come to be familiar with over the next two years.
Naturally, Jerry wanted nothing to do with me, nor I him. Once Bernie sobered up and was upright, he initially took the stance that nobody speaks to his future wife that way. He insisted we were a package deal, and if his friend couldn’t respect that, he wasn’t worth having as a friend. I felt loved and believed.
Such things were short-lived. Before I knew it, he was asking if maybe I would have lunch with Jerry, and apologize. He started guilting me that Jerry no longer wanted his “woman” or dog (a corgi) around if they spent time together. Now, I wonder quite honestly if they were lovers. Early in our dating life, Bernie and Jerry went downtown and crashed in a condo Jerry’s brother owned nearby. Bernie texted the next day, freaked out. They’d been incredibly drunk. And when he woke up, he could see that Jerry had no pants on.
As a survivor of sexual assault, I did my very best to be non-judgemental and understanding. I wanted to make sure he was okay more than anything else. He eventually got a hold of Jerry who said he simply can’t sleep with pants on, and that he was sure nothing untoward had happened. Mmmmm hmmmmm. Of course not. And somehow, I was shocked to learn two years into our marriage that he masturbated three times daily in the bathroom to gay, furry porn. His words?
“It’s never straight and it’s rarely human.”
With time and distance (and wine), I came to wonder if Jerry’s discomfort with me was about being the “other” person in Bernie’s life. I’ll never get an honest answer to that question, but things make more sense that way whether a physical affair was happening or not.
But, back to me and my party! Just before the big anniversary shindig, Jerry reached out to Bernie. He wanted to get together. Of course, somehow, he wanted to see him AT THE EXACT SAME TIME AS MY PARTY. And Bernie agreed.
“You said I didn’t have to go to your party.”
“Yes. I did. But, I wanted you to want to go to my party.”
“But, you said I didn’t have to go.”
So, I picked up balloons and food. I set up prize tables. I greeted families and had a water balloon fight with kids. I mingled with student families who insisted I sit and enjoy myself for a minute. I accepted last-minute assignments for some extra prize money to spend while there. Pictures and videos marked that my butt was bigger than I was hoping, but also that it was a lovely event celebrating this little company I had worked so hard to build.
In the last ten minutes, Bernie sauntered up. I immediately wanted to ask how it had gone, since this meeting had been so important that he skipped the only anniversary party I’d ever thrown for my company. He hushed me, and said he didn’t want to talk about it there.
I had hoped he would find some answer as to what had originally freaked Jerry out. And this, most of all, shows me the depths of the gaslighting I’d already endured and internalized. I wanted to know what I had done wrong when trying to stop his friend from driving drunk. Even while angry, even while hurt, even while feeling as though I never wanted to see that man again. I thought I could have stopped all of this somehow, which made it my fault.
More clarity came a few days later. The unclaimed prizes were packed up in our closet. Leftovers had been gifted, tossed, or consumed. I kept the hot pink “6” balloon and tied it to our dining table. As though he had just noticed it, Bernie looked at the balloon and touched it gently.
“We have been together six years” he said, attempting a romantic tone.
I wanted to scream. I wanted to punch him in the face. Instead, I softly responded,
“And my company is six years old.”
About the Creator
A small town musician who moved to the big city, started a music lessons company, and is finally processing and sharing her bizarre personal stories from childhood, dating, and marriage.