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The Mask

by Elaine Gallagher about a year ago in literature
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Do You Really Know Him?

The Mask
Photo by Jean-Philippe Delberghe on Unsplash

Mask: a covering for all or part of a face, worn as a disguise, or to amuse or terrify others; disguise

The visual jagged lines and penetrating noise on the TV screen screamed at him. The piercing sound of the static and the visual snow made him cringe as he continued to get ready to leave his torturous dwelling…..

The police officer chuckled loudly and raised his eyebrows as she patiently told the story. The handsome officer thought it was just another fight with the boyfriend. He snickered loudly and said he would see what he could do. Every day at least one of these situations crossed the main desk so he was ready to go back to his mundane paperwork. As she notices his total obliviousness for her, she keeps her composure. She hands him a 200 page bound document of text and emails received and exclaimed, “For your reading pleasure, officer.” His face hung low as he realized she was not joking and he was caught in his not-so-nice response. Not just another everyday dispute. Here’s how it all happened….

One cold, bleak night after Thanksgiving, feeling lonely, with nothing better to do, she ventured out to meet the online stranger she had been talking to for weeks now. In his profile picture, he looked handsome with dark hair and a moustache, a nice smile. He seemed much thinner and older than his profile picture. She didn’t remember noticing his height online but they met eye to eye. That was usually the case. Misrepresentation online happens all the time. It’s a chance you take when you decide to meet a stranger from a dating website. Online dating has brought about some lasting marriages and some terrible memories as well.

Actually, he seemed quite serious and quiet, yet very much a gentleman as he offered to treat her for dinner. Most meets were a quick cup of coffee or a drink. She didn’t know what intrigued her about him, but she conversed freely through the date and allowed him to walk her to her car. It may be his gentlemanliness after a rash of horrible, meaningless dates in the past few months. He texted her as soon as she got home. She thought that was odd yet very sweet that he was so concerned with her safety driving home alone. He seemed like an ordinary nice guy.

She had never met anyone like him. He was so kind and attentive. A well-known boat repairman at the local marinas, he took pride in his livelihood. He repaired motors at home during winter months when business was slow. Money was never an object to him and he spent it quite freely. He was much freer during the winter, and told her he worked at two marinas in the summer. He mentioned that seeing him now was a luxury and she should enjoy it because once April arrived he would be extremely busy getting his customers out on the water. Because it was winter and he worked at his own pace, he told her he would work around her schedule so they could spend as much time together as possible. This was perfect as he wanted to get to know her and she was enjoying all the attention for a change.

By Alex Iby on Unsplash

The first few days, he called several times a day and she saw him again on that Saturday night. She was impressed by the way he put so much thought into whatever they did together. Every date revealed his thought process and it always involved pleasing her. He was sweet and respectful. She never met anyone like him before. So she saw him during the week for dinner and on weekends as well, sometimes they just went to a movie.

Once in a while he would “appease her” and get a drink at her favorite bar where her friends always met. He did mention more than once, though, that only single women without boyfriends should drink at bars and men never thought highly of them. Her friends were very gracious when meeting him and anytime he was around. They even tried to have conversations with him. She ignored most of his comments attributing it to the “boyfriend taking control” attitude. No one ever said a negative word to her. At the bar, he didn’t socialize; he just stared forward as if he was in a constant trance.

The Knicks game was interrupted again. Why won’t that interference stop on the television set? Do they know I am here? Did they follow us? Why won’t they leave me alone? I’m happy now. I have met a beautiful woman. He stared blindly into space until she revived him that it was time to leave.

One night he suggested they try this special restaurant near Bear Mountain that he always talked about. It was a far drive but she agreed as she knew he put so much thought into their time together and she had never been there. But as they started getting closer to Bear Mountain she regretted her decision. The bends in the road were sharp and scary. No lights for miles. It felt as if they would just fall into a ditch. She continued to tell him she didn’t want to go anymore and that these roads made her nervous. It was so dark and it frightened her to almost tears. He finally conceded after going around the same treacherous turns and he went to another place. But he did not speak much during dinner. She figured he was just disappointed because his plan had failed. Not every date can be perfect.

By Nathanaël Desmeules on Unsplash

He wondered where they were. Were they watching him? Were they waiting in a ditch off the road? Were they interfering with what was supposed to be a romantic dinner in Bear Mountain? He heard the static ringing in his ears and tried to push it away. It wouldn’t stop.

She did notice that every once in a while, he would twitch. This was particularly evident the night after the Bear Mountain drive. Or go into a trance and tell her about this woman, Frances, who hurt him deeply. This was his last relationship which lasted about two years. He said she took over his television screen and made a big static wave through it. He could even see her face in the screen in a long, white dress. Somehow he felt that her and her new boyfriend hacked his cable box. He turned the TV on one night and waited for the snowy lines to appear and they did not. He pushed it away saying they were watching and would not do it when she was there. Their purpose was to drive him insane. He did not understand why anyone would do this especially since she was the one cheating. He did everything for her just like he did for any woman he was dating. She was frightened thinking that someone would do this to this sweet, harmless man.. She figured he exaggerated about the television situation after having a few drinks. Needless to say, she never watched television with him. He was obviously a bit quirky.

“Please make it stop”, he would shout out alone in his apartment, every time he turned on the television. He ventured into the backyard to see who was there messing with his electricity and his television screen. It took many hours for him to fall asleep that night.

By Zach Vessels on Unsplash

She would notice certain abnormalities about him but then brush them off again as she spent more time with him. He was overly interested in her. On their two week anniversary he bought her a sparkling, white gold ring with a garnet stone in it. She did not want to accept it. He said it meant nothing – he just saw it and thought she would like it. .

He continued to overindulge her. He brought over packages of lobster ravioli for her daughter’s birthday. On Super Bowl Sunday she was visiting with friends and he showed up to surprise her later, bringing an abundance of flavors of ice cream for all of them to choose from. It crossed her mind that most men don’t want to spend this momentous football day with women, but he was different. One day he spent two hours in Stop and Shop looking for the perfect lunch for her now that her doctor put her on a low cholesterol diet. He came over to give her a foot rub when she had a long day. When her mom needed repairs on her apartment, he ran over and helped out which, of course, won her over too.

One night they decided to try this small, quaint Cajun restaurant in the neighborhood. She was looking forward to some delicious catfish and hearing the band after dinner. They ordered a cocktail and sat at the bar waiting for their table to be ready. He quivered, started gazing into space and then abruptly wanted to leave. He claimed a man was glancing her way and made him extremely uncomfortable. Then, when the lead singer of the band said hello to her he started twitching. It was a shortened date as he did not speak very much during dinner when they ended up at the local pub. They ate quickly and then he took her home. He mentioned how it was difficult to have such a beautiful girlfriend that everyone wanted. He could not get rid of them all so they just had to get away from them. This frightened her a bit. Part of her was flattered and the other scared to death.

She went home that evening with a weird feeling. Not all dates are perfect, so she tried to brush it off. Something in the back of her head kept shouting at her to pay more attention to this man who wore a mask, sometimes happy and sometimes very dark. She couldn’t shake this feeling for days.

Her children were not especially thrilled with him, maybe because he was always around. Her nosy aunt investigated him but found nothing at all. The old woman continued to be obnoxiously rude whenever he was in the house. She just ignored them and continued on her way with him. Didn’t they understand she was just dating him. They should be happy for her. He was harmless after all and just a little bit possessive. In her heart, she felt as if he was just a temporary boyfriend that treated her right and nothing else. She wanted to enjoy this. She would not have any feelings for him. That was her plan this time.

The last man she had feelings for turned out to be a complete liar. He was not divorced yet and still married with children. He lied to her consistently without her being suspicious. He made her laugh whenever they were together so she never even questioned his last minute cancellations. As she looked back at the times he canceled on her, she realized that she was completely blinded. She was no longer blinded and would never be again. She was just enjoying being treated like a princess. She knew he was not “the one” but she was just enjoying the good treatment she hadn’t had in a very long time. He had no children so he was always willing to compromise plans for her children. Who could ask for more?

But can you be treated as a princess for a price?

In February, he surprised her with a three day trip to Florida. First, they would stop in Juno Beach and see her best friend before taking a scenic drive to Key West. It sounded like an exciting, fun time. He even arranged it so that they would be back for her daughter’s birthday, which he knew she would never miss. She was reluctant yet at the same time embraced this fun adventure.

By John McArthur on Unsplash

The trip was interesting and memorable to say the least. They arrived at West Palm Beach airport without any problems. He rented this beautiful red sports car and they were on our way to her friend’s house. Her friends were polite, very happy to meet him and treated them to delicious, homemade pizza. Conversation flowed and all seemed to be going well. They were only there for a few hours and then were on their way to Key West. This is where the horror began.

About one hour into the trip, he became violently ill. They had to stop on numerous occasions as he was vomiting uncontrollably. She was petrified for two reasons – she was alone with basically a stranger that was so ill and she was frightened of getting to Key West. What if something happened to him? What would she tell the authorities? Who would she call? Suddenly, she felt so all alone. What made her decide to take this trip? When would she learn the word no and not always worry about others’ feelings? At one point in the trip, he was so sick, she had to do all the driving. There was nowhere to stop and she was in a state that she was so unfamiliar with. She was petrified during the rest of the ride as he continued vomiting and she was driving on what seemed like a one foot wide bridge with trucks with huge beaming headlights blinding her the other way. It seemed as if this narrow bridge would never end. She just kept praying. She had never been here before and had no idea where she was going. She never prayed so hard. She swore when she got back home she would kiss the ground and her children.

They checked into the hotel finally sometime after midnight. He was deathly ill. She looked around and never felt so alone. How long would it take for two days to pass? The next day she wandered the main strip. She did not feel confident to take the car and go see the tourist sites in Key West. She managed to pick up a fast food meal for herself and just stayed at the pool with a book. She could not concentrate on reading or even enjoy the serenity of the pool and beach area. She did not enjoy one second of the two days she was there. In fact, today when people asked her if she ever went to Key West she would always say no. She did not experience anything. It was just a hotel room with a sick man and no one around to talk to. On the last day, before they were leaving, he mustered up energy to go to lunch with her in Old Town. She had the grouper that he had been talking about since they met. It was pleasant but again she felt all alone in the world and knew she made the biggest mistake traveling with him. He wasn’t feeling perfect so again she had to drive the five hours back to the West Palm Beach airport. She asked him to change the flight to Key West airport but apparently there were no flights available. He checked on line (apparently) and they decided to stick with West Palm airport. In hindsight she should have packed her bag that first night and either gone back to her friend’s house or taken a flight from Key West airport home. That’s what credit cards are for. These type of emergencies. The thought had crossed her mind but how could she leave a violently ill man alone and what if something happened to him. Wouldn’t it lead back to her, the innocent girlfriend on this whirlwind horror trip from hell?

They finally flew home and he seemed to be getting better. She never felt so relieved. It was one of the happiest feelings of her life, being home and away from the loneliness and fear of her vacation. They celebrated her daughter’s birthday the next day. She felt continued tension from the dislike in the air. It was so thick it was unbearable. She knew that she had made a grave mistake dating him. Her family was the world to her and she would not want to make them unhappy. The children had enough to deal with in the aftermath of her divorce. What was she going to do?

His constant attention and sometimes jealousy got on her nerves. It’s like he had two faces –one that said “have fun with your friends” and one that was not happy at all when she talked about her friends that were unattached. That’s when he wore….the mask.

The mask surfaced again about a week after returning from Florida. She received a call while she was having dinner with her girlfriend that her sweet neighbor had died. It was already 7:30 and the wake was only that night. Quickly, they paid the bill and went to the wake together. On the way there she texted him and told him what happened. This triggered a series of continuous texts from him. He went insane claiming that she’s making up the wake, and where was she really going. He said he was having a heart attack and couldn’t believe that this was happening and who was she really going to see. Where is she really going? Why is she doing this to me? She knew she had to break up with him. Didn’t he realize she didn’t even have to tell him anything because she was going home after dinner originally? He continued texting long after the wake was over. She realized that he was not only possessive and quirky, but he was mentally unstable. She had to think of something and fast. She couldn’t stop shaking. She figured it would be right after her birthday weekend away with her friends which was starting the next day.

The “big” birthday was coming up. She planned a weekend away with her friends. She couldn’t wait. They would have a nice dinner and go bar hopping, and then stay at the Marriott. She should have realized he was too easy going about this plan, but at that moment she was happy to be going with her friends and not having to see him for the entire weekend. She felt such a relief and freedom she hadn’t felt in months. She would deal with him when she returned. For now, she was completely focused on what she was wearing and how extremely relieved she would feel when she was away from home, away from him, and out with her friends who made her laugh and always have a great time. She wanted herself back so badly. Remember that fun girl – where did she go? Why does she need a man to make her happy? She certainly didn’t.

Before making the 7:00 train, her friends suggested stopping for appetizers at one of the local restaurants. They talked about this appetizer special that was delicious. She wasn’t overly thrilled with the idea but since they planned this special weekend for her, she went along with it. Waiting inside the restaurant was a surprise party for her. Her family had planned it (even though she did not want it) and all her friends were there to surprise her. And of course, he was there. No wonder he didn’t give her a hard time about going away. She felt faint just realizing this. From his reaction to the wake the other night she should have known that he wasn’t totally thrilled with her being away and not with him. She wanted to break up with him after the weekend away and couldn’t wait to be free of him and enjoying her friends and her freedom again. And there he was…. Which mask was he wearing tonight? How would she survive this party? If only she told her friends what was happening…. Then maybe he would not have been invited. He just stood in the corner and smiled deeply.

Well, she got absolutely drunk because she didn’t expect this and also because he was there beaming with happiness. Of course he was happy – she was with him and not going away for the weekend. No one else would be looking at her. He had that evil look in his eyes. All along he didn’t argue with her about it because he knew that she wasn’t really going away after all. Her friends from work were in attendance – she didn’t want them to know her age. Her friends from Long Island and her dear Florida friend was also there. So here she was drinking Absolut and Cranberry (she lost count) and then started with Espresso Martinis. Every picture from that evening showed her with a drink in her hand and with a very big grin. Finally, they get her home and to bed. Her best friend was going to stay with her. Her friend tried to get her comfortable while he was in her bedroom telling people to leave. He kept repeating that he was going to marry her and he was in charge. Her family started a screaming match with him. He was eventually thrown out. She was too busy being sick to know all that was being said, but felt relief with just her friends and family staying with her. She knew something was terribly wrong with him. That night she was called the most hyper drunk because she was so ossified from the alcohol and so awake from all the espresso. She laughed and cried all night long. What a wonderful surprise but now what was she going to do about this imposter?

By Kobby Mendez on Unsplash

The next day she could barely move. Her friends took all presents he left behind (one was a diamond ring they didn’t let her see) and they immediately packed them up to mail back to him. After ridiculous attempts to call her, her friend picked up the phone and told him to stop calling and to pick up his stuff on the front steps (he purposely left his wallet) and to never ever call her or see her again. They let him know that they were returning all gifts. This is when the real nightmare began….

Phone calls, emails. Texts ….hundreds a day and continuous, just seconds apart. Why don’t you believe me? I will take you away from all those bad people and we will live happily ever after.

By Nathana Rebouças on Unsplash

Wherever she went he followed. Looking quietly through the blinds she saw his car drive past her house all the time, sometimes a few times in one hour. If she was outside a restaurant smoking a cigarette with a group of people, she would get a text and a phone call from him. He always left a voicemail and always called her “honey bunny”. At night he would send hundreds of emails repeating over and over that she did not understand how much he loved her and that he was going to marry her. He sent her an insurance policy for $500k that he listed her as sole beneficiary and as his fiancé. She just kept printing and saving, printing and saving. The folder was so thick she couldn’t keep it all together. It was out of control. She answered a few texts saying she was contacting the police. Even the smallest response gave him courage to do even more harassing. Is there hope now that she answered me? She won’t really call the police, will she? Her responses could be angry, threatening or vicious and he would apparently think it meant he was getting through. He kept on saying she would never find anyone like him.

He went into her Facebook account and contacted all her friends that he met at her birthday party and begged them to speak to her. He brought her three girlfriends (whom she was planning to go away with) bouquets of flowers. He showed up at her mother’s house, her aunt’s house and it just kept going on and on. Everyone was frightened by his actions. Her kids were afraid to leave the house. They were angry with her and she knew she had let them down.

The nightmare continued. She still threatened to call the cops. Deep down he didn’t believe her. Her girlfriend (she witnessed entire event at her house) called him and begged him to leave her and everyone else alone. He said he would. That lasted a few days and then it began again. He would always send her letters and cards using her maiden name (when they dated he said she should get rid of her married name as she was divorced). He sent emails with pictures of a new dog he bought which was an exact duplicate of her dog. He claimed that the dogs could be in love just like they were. They had rhyming names. Buddy and Bunny could be in love like we are. She was sick to her stomach. The next few months she received flowers, cologne, cigarettes and cards at least once a week. She returned them all. He would not get the hint or understand. The ringing in my ears doesn’t stop. Even my television doesn’t show me any pictures anymore. Just static noise.

Months later, it calmed down a little bit and she started dating someone else. Every time she was out she always had to look behind her. She felt sick all the time. She tried to move on but she needed him to go away. It would stop for a few days or a week and then start all over again. The blue Toyota, the phone calls, emails and more texts….

Finally, she took all the paperwork to the cops. They laughed, they read and they called him and advised him if this continued charges would be filed. He sent her an email finally saying that he would not be in touch any longer because he could not lose his business but that he would always love her. She figured this was it and he was gone.

A few months passed and she was waiting to meet her new boyfriend. He was returning from a short vacation. He was calling her to tell her that he was running late. She never got the message since she was the phone calls started again and she was so busy trying to disconnect them. So she went to where she was meeting her boyfriend who ended up not showing. She left in haste and became very angry. Why does she get herself involved in situations? She was angry with herself.

If she had gotten his message she would have known that he was delayed and coming in about an hour. She left and when she tried to talk to him later they ended up in a fight. He said if she couldn’t wait for him, he wanted nothing to do with her. She was heart- broken. She had a connection with him and felt as if the other situation was behind her. But no, the mask appeared again and ruined her day.

This situation put her over the edge. She called him and said to leave her alone or the cops would be at his door. He begged her to listen to what he had to say and that he did everything for her own good. That no one would love her the way he did. My business is too important to lose – I better step back for a bit. And then there was silence for a while.

A few weeks before Christmas, she came home one night and found a wreath on her car with a purple bow. He knew she loved purple, who else would have left it there?! She gave the wreath to her friend because hanging it up would have meant she accepted it and would give him his power back. She had to let him go away for good, no matter what it took. She looked out her window constantly and knew she saw a small navy Toyota truck pass by a few times a night. She continued to be frightened.

By Brooke Lark on Unsplash

He would be silent for a few weeks and then send her an email. Even after the cops went to his door, he still needed to send an email or text her or pass her house. He emailed her stating the cops visited and that he would no longer bother her. Liar, liar!!! Finally, she decided to ignore him and hoped he would go away. The contact became less and less. She was moving on with her life.

One day it just all stopped. No calls, no emails, no texts. She felt finally free. She found out around a year later that he passed away suddenly. His family found him on the ground. Apparently it was kidney and liver disease. Was this what was ailing him in Florida? His mother had died a few months before him and his sister-in-law passed away a few weeks before that. And then-- him. It seemed weird. His brother was the only remaining member in their three family residence. Very suspicious story—had he been sick all along hence, the insurance policy, the engagement ring, the thin, gaunt look compared to his profile picture…. A story for another time…..

She would never know what really happened to him, but she finally felt free of the mask that shadowed her life for almost two years. She no longer shivered when a small blue Toyota pickup truck drove by her, but she always noticed and held her breath.

literature

About the author

Elaine Gallagher

I am an elementary educator and freelance writer. I enjoy writing about education, health and fitness and every day life issues. You can find my writing at egallagher.contently.com and my blog, Just Me, https://egallagher713.wordpress.com

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