This is the story of how I fell in love with the characters he played rather than the man himself, of how I was seduced by a dream, a man who I thought could bend the world to his will and bring me along for the action.
When I was the one he picked, oh, you can’t imagine—well, you probably can, have probably used such a scenario to get through sex with your spouse or ease yourself to sleep. Imagine that scenario was real. That was what happened to me, and I thought I had been blessed—literally blessed—and I went around spouting it. How else could you explain why the godlike man that he was would pick you—a model, sure, but a small-time one who did newspaper and television ads for the surf shops and department stores and law firms in Jacksonville, Florida, of all places. Remember, this was before the Internet was a thing in everyone’s homes and lives. You got inky from news and had to sit through all the shitty amateur commercials for fear you’d miss the return to Rachel and Ross or Erica Kane and whichever old dude she was with. I was a mere local celebrity, the one called on to auctioneer at private school fundraisers and cut oversized ribbons with oversized scissors and sit on the biggest float at holiday parades, and it all made for a pretty good gig until I was offered a spot on Mount Olympus.
Somehow, again, pre-Internet, the word spread that the biggest film star in the world was in town shooting a psychological thriller that never got released, not even straight to home video, because it was about an addicted bomb-maker, and the Oklahoma City bombing happened right in the middle of editing. But in the meantime, Jacksonville, especially Jacksonville Beach, especially the rich parts, was all wet about our big-time visitor. No one ever came to Jacksonville. We’re known for nothing. Seriously, the Jaguars didn’t even exist yet, and who cares about the Jaguars now? There was all this speculation about which restaurants he would frequent, which hotel he would stay at, but in Jacksonville, there were really only a few options near-glamorous enough for him. I had done commercials for most of them, and they were always happy when I showed up, a live advertisement for their services.
When he came straight up to me at the bar of the Jacksonville Inn and Club, I felt like I was in my own movie. Here was the reluctant superhero, the multilingual spy, the bad boy with the promise of redemption, the doomed artist. I’m sure I batted my eyes, fingered my hair, smiled too much, all right on cue. Even when he was standing right in front of you, it was as if you were seeing him through the lens of a camera, he radiated that much airbrushed larger-than-lifeness. Really, someone that gorgeous and built can’t be real. An engineered man. And he knew all the right lines. How could he not? He’d memorized them over and over again.
How many men have you met with the kind of brazenness to go up to an unknown woman and, first-thing, compliment her legs? I mean, my legs are fantastic—I don’t even have to work for them. I wear short skirts even in winter because they’re so long and strong that men can’t help imagining them wrapped around them, but most men, if they have the courage, imply their aspiration, don’t just come out with it. His life, though, was the movies, and the movies had convinced him that Hollywood followed him wherever he went. Convinced me too.
Until I stopped being the audience. Until I transgressed the facade, fell into his private life.
It’s embarrassing how long it took for me to realize who he really was. There were so many distractions: the photo shoots, interviews, Hollywood wedding (remember it?), honeymoon in St. Barts, move to his mansion in Malibu, shopping for clothing I could be seen wearing in Southern California, getting my own agent, going on auditions, landing my first acting role on a soap. The limos, the private jets, the lifestyle was more than I ever imagined for myself, but none of it compared to the feeling that I was a damsel worthy of being saved from distress, a muse, his co-star in life. Attention is addictive as heroin.
Eventually we fell into a routine. Every couple does, I assume. Breakfasts in the sunroom, couples Tai Chi, dinners out with directors and writers who kissed his ass.
He wasn’t violent or an alcoholic or anything romantic like that. What did you assume? No tortured genius was my husband. He wasn’t even an airhead.
My husband, the dream on the screen, behind those glossy performances, was a freak. Makes me sound judgmental to say it, right? To have and to hold, and all that? You’re judging me now.
He had a habit when he sat down in a chair of reaching his arms down, left then right, knuckles first like a gorilla, to feel the sturdiness of the floor beneath him, as if to reassure himself that he was still on solid ground. He only did it when we were home, though, never in public. If ever an audience was present, he could assume a chair as if he were doing it a favor, keeping it from floating away.
He lunged up stairs three at a time, drank shots of mouthwash, ended each of our conversations with the words “the end.”
I didn’t even notice how weird the sex was at first, so caught up in the appeal of his hairless brawn and the idea of what we must have looked like together. I could envision the sensitively captured close-ups. I’d come practically as soon as he was in me, and once I sank into post-coital blankness, that’s when he’d pull out and start to position me like a Barbie doll, shave me, paint and glitter my skin, all along narrating the psycho scenarios in his head to a life-size cutout of a co-star from one of his movies.
Do I still sound superficial to you? What are a few idiosyncrasies? Every one’s got them. I know that.
What if I told you that he threw tantrums, like full-on toddler tantrums, the kind you’ve seen poor parents stand by and watch only with pathetic passivity in grocery stores? I mean he would fall on the floor, kick and mash fists, yell made-up curse words until he passed out in exhaustion. And not over stereotypical actor complaints, like the wrong color dressing room or an itchy wardrobe. Over legitimate reasons to get upset. I think the worst was when Princess Diana died.
And here’s the kicker. There’s no denying this one. You think your spouse is weird.
He froze his shit. And by shit, I don’t mean his stuff. I mean his literal, stinking, bacteria-rich shit. When we first moved into the mansion, I didn’t notice the walk-in freezer in the basement. It was camouflaged into the shelving. I didn’t even notice that he went down there every morning after his coffee, but we didn’t share bathrooms, so why would I have? Besides, it’s hard to imagine someone that beautiful taking dumps. It was when a really famous film couple—I can’t tell you who—brought over an adorable mini-barrel of a one-of-a-kind scotch that they said should be stored in the basement that I found it. At first I thought he was hoarding Ziploc-sealed globs of brownie batter. Then I barfed all over the terracotta floor.
I don’t know why he did it. Paranoia? Saving it for posterity? When I asked him, he gave me the look of longing that he’s given so many actresses on screen and said he had no idea what I was talking about.
I’ll admit it took me a while to give up my new life, even with the shit. Think you could do it, stop cold-turkey from being the focus of everyone’s gaze? But when I closed my eyes in bed, which was hard, because he was so good to look at, I could still see the piles and piles of frozen shit on the shelves. Dated and everything.
I wish I’d known in addition to being a freak that he was vengeful. As soon as I filed the divorce papers, my agent, my soap contract, even my parking space at the studio were gone. It’s only because of the non-disclosure agreement that I got such a sweet set up here on this island in the Caribbean. Spending my days as a high-class beach bum has agreed with me, but I’ve grown tired of not being the star of my own life.
I’ve kept my secret for twenty years. I’ve told it now. All of it. The good, the bad, and the shitty. Except who he was.
But you already know.
Sarah Schiff earned her PhD in American literature from Emory University but is now a fugitive from higher education. She writes short fiction and teaches high school English in Atlanta. A work of her flash fiction recently appeared in Cheap Pop, and her essays and reviews can be found in such journals as Modern Fiction Studies, American Literature, and Arizona Quarterly. Find her on Twitter at @sarahedenschiff.