I sat alone in the front pew, facing the altar. It was not Sunday. There were no crowds of pious Catholics waiting to celebrate mass. There was no host to be shared, no baptism to rejoice, no wedding to witness, nor funeral to mourn. Yet here I sat at St. Michael’s Church. The grand old cathedral held a familiar scent and a comfortable sentiment-and why shouldn’t it? I had been coming here ever since I could remember. True, I had fallen away from the church the past few years, but St. Michael’s had played an integral role in my younger life. My parents, active church goers, had exchanged wedding vows at this very altar thirty-five years ago. It was here that my brother and I received the sacraments of Baptism, Communion and Confirmation. And beyond the fourteen years of catechism (religious instructions) we received here, we also served as altar boys at weekly mass. Yes, St. Michael’s was the one place I needed to be today, at this time.
I knew that Father O’Donnelly would be coming into the church soon, as he always did at eight o’clock in the evening, to check the tabernacle, turn down the lights and lock the doors for the night. I remembered O’Donnelly as a kind, gentle, caring man, with a keen sense of justice tempered by compassion-a living example of a good Christian. I always admired him.
Yes, if anyone could offer me absolution, it was Father O’Donnelly.
As I waited, my mind wandered. So much had happened that it was still hard to process it all. Just two short years ago, my life was happy and carefree. As a young, handsome, single guy with a good job and a hot car, I had plenty of money and plenty of good times with my best friend and roommate Paulie.
Then I met Jennifer.
It was just another Saturday night at the club-nearly closing time. She seemed to come out of nowhere and struck up a conversation. Funny, now I couldn’t even remember what we talked about. But she was real cute-a petite buxom blonde. Paulie started bugging me to leave. At his suggestion, I gave her my number, never expecting her call.
Surprisingly she called the next day. At first I had forgotten all about having encountered her but after an hour-long phone conversation (not usually my style) we ended up meeting that night for our first date. What followed over the next few days could only be referred to as a whirlwind of nonstop wild and wanton carnal experiences- anything, anywhere, anytime. Jennifer had a constant appetite for passionate intimate relations and after a month, I moved in with her. The sex was terrific and I was fully satisfied. She treated me like a god in bed and so I obliged her every wish-both sexual and non. I went along with the major public displays of affection and the pet names she made up for us-things I had always despised in other couples. But I got daily blow jobs. I was a lustful powerful deity soaring through the clouds high in the sky.
It was Paulie who brought me back down to earth. He pointed out that Jennifer was monopolizing my life-she wanted to be with me all the time. At first I resisted his suggestion by telling him she just really cares about me, but soon I began to observe that Jen had become very demanding of my time. In fact, without my noticing, she had taken over my life and placed herself at the center of my existence. I had been blinded by her flashy looks and licentious behavior. By the time I realized what was happening she was organizing my daily activities-or rather controlling them-what errands I would do before or after work, what we would be doing or not doing each weeknight and, on the weekends, how my leisure time would be spent. She told me how to dress and would pick out all my clothes beforehand. She would even control what, when and where I ate! Sure the sex rocked and I did like being with Jen at times-but not all the time! I enjoyed doing other things too-without her-like hanging out with Paulie and our other friends. But clearly that was not in her plan because she always managed to dissuade me from any activity which did not include her.
The worst part was when she complained about my visiting Paulie.
“Why do you always want to be with him?” she would whine, “Why can’t you stay home with me?”
Despite her complaints I would go to Paulie’s, but every time Jen would call ten minutes after I arrived, then twenty minutes after that and then every twenty minutes thereafter until I left and came home.
Meanwhile Paulie would urge me to dump her. “Get rid of that ho! How can you take it man? No sex is that good!” He’d tease. Paulie never sugar coated anything.
I began to regret having moved in with Jen so quickly, before getting to know her better. I had listened to the wrong head. Now I was paying the price. The relationship was suffocating me. How had my insatiable lover become this possessive, scheming wretch?
One night, I met Paulie and some other friends at a bar and didn’t tell Jen about it. I couldn’t. She would try to deter me and when that didn’t work, she’d insist on coming along. Then, of course she wouldn’t mix and mingle with everyone. She’d be aloof or embarrass me in some way, usually trying to make out with me constantly, or with those stupid pet names which were starting to drive me crazy! Yes, like usual, she’d ruin my time nagging at me to go somewhere else “just us” or to go home early. I didn’t tell her where I was going because the sad truth was that it was impossible to have a good time out with Jen and my other friends. And-I also realized-she had none of her own.
Despite the fact that I didn’t tell her where I was going, Jen tracked me down. She came in to the bar, ordered a drink then threw it in the face of one of the girls we were with, while screaming at her, accusing her of flirting and trying to get with me. She was bounced from the place and the end result was a big blowout between us. I moved out the next day.
Our separation was not permanent though. Jen soon called me at my new apartment and we began to talk nightly. She even admitted that she was seeing a psychiatrist to sort through her issues and was on medication that was helping. I thought it a brave admission and felt hopeful that she was trying to change. One Friday evening she stopped by with my favorite takeout dinner and a bottle of champagne. I had smoked a joint an hour earlier and was starved. I hadn’t had sex in a month. She was dressed in a really sexy outfit. The bubbly put me over. So when she alluringly begged my forgiveness and promised things would change, I complied and we had awesome makeup sex-all the way through to Sunday! Before she left, she asked me to move back in with her. Things would change, she promised, “Just move back in.”
I did, but things didn’t. Within the month she was back to her old tricks. I knew for certain the relationship was going nowhere and needed to end one day when we happened to walk by a jewelry store. Jen stopped to stare at the diamond engagement rings in the window and inquired as to when I would purchase hers-actually she demanded that I allow her to pick it out! I felt sick inside. I mean literally sick to my stomach, which I took as a very bad sign. But instead of admitting the absurdity of us marrying and causing a rift, I just laughed and let her think what she wanted. But Jen was not happy with that response either and the incident ended up causing an all-night quarrel. In fact, we argued about almost everything-except, of course, sex. Oddly enough, the post-fight “make-up sex” (a term I never truly understood until Jen) was even more fervent than the usual. It was as if the rage heightened the arousal.
Our little spats, however, soon grew into major battles and one night, the police were called by the neighbors to come and break things up. They asked Jen if I had hit her or hurt her and she said no. Thankfully, she added that she didn’t want to press charges. So the police said they wouldn’t file a report or arrest me but of course I had to leave the premises. They did allow me to gather some things in a duffel bag before escorting me out to my car. I felt completely humiliated. I wondered how things had gotten so out of control. This is not me, I thought, I respect women, I’m no wife beater. But this woman was crazy, insecure, controlling-and sooo erotic. Oooh, to hell with the daily BJ’s! I had to get away and stay away.
Needless to say, I moved out again. And again Jen began calling me after a few weeks, begging me to just meet her, swearing things would change. This time though, her pleas fell on deaf ears.
But that did not stop Jen. She called my home and cell incessantly, leaving scores of messages on my answering machine and voicemail, none of which I answered. She loaded my inbox with e-mails, all of which I automatically deleted. I changed my e-mail address, Facebook name and phone numbers but it made no difference in her quest to contact me. She called my job ten times a day as well as any bar or friend’s house I visited. She had all their numbers and I couldn’t ask everyone to change them! No matter where I went, be it private home or public establishment, I would be tracked down and called. It was as if she was following me all the time, shadowing me. No matter what I did, Jen would either show up or call. Hanging up made no difference. She’d call back. Walking away made no difference. She would follow after me.
Surprisingly, there was a lull in her stalking for a short time and I thought she’d given up. I prayed she met someone else to occupy her time. I even pursued another woman. A woman I had seen at the bar several times in the past and always liked what I saw. I finally scored a date with her and, as we left her apartment to go out for the evening, she noticed her car had been seriously keyed and two tires slashed. She had no idea of who in the world would do such a thing-but I knew. I was still being stalked and now it was hurting those around me. I would never get rid of Jen. My life was miserable with no way out.
So when my boss offered me the chance to attend a weeklong business conference out of town, I jumped at the opportunity.
The night I was to leave was a cold Sunday night. At about ten o’clock, Jen called. Normally I would let the machine get it but she mentioned that she’d been downsized from her job and I felt bad. She worked there for almost nine years. She really sounded desperate so I picked up. As soon as I did, I was sorry.
“I’m really upset. Come over. I need you Artie, I really do. You need me too.” She slurred, “You know you really love me. We’re great together.”
“No we are not great together Jen; we fight all the time about everything.”
“But the sex is fabulous”, she cooed in her alluring baby voice.
“That’s the only thing that was fabulous-the sex. But that’s not enough. A relationship is much more than just great sex.”
Did I just say that? I thought, not believing the words that just came out of my mouth in earnest.
It was true though, I realized in that moment. I suddenly saw that everything I had previously thought I wanted from a woman in a relationship was wrong. Despite all the macho talk about hot sex and daily BJ’s, someone to cook for me, do my laundry and clean up after me, I really did want a woman who was my friend first and foremost. I wanted a partner-an equal companion that I could hang with and have fun with and share life with.
“So you’re gonna just give up on us?”
“There is no us Jen!”
“But I love you Artie!”
I cringed. You don’t know the meaning of the word, I thought, but remained silent. I refused to be drawn into an argument. I simply didn’t care anymore. Jen continued, “Without you I might as well just die!” she stated dramatically. I rolled my eyes and my lack of verbal response was her excuse to up the ante. “Yeah, yeah, that’s what I’ll do Artie, I’ll kill myself. Then you’ll realize how much I mean to you…how much you really do love me.”
I was taken aback. This was a tactic she had never before used. I didn’t like it.
“You’ve been drinking Jen, don’t talk that way.”
“It’s not talk, Artie.” She stated indignantly. “I have a whole bottle of pills here and I’m gonna take ’em all. So you better come over.”
I was not about to fall for this latest drunken charade designed to trap me into coming over. Then once I was there she’d lure me into bed, we’d have mad sex and things would all smooth over. No way. No more.
“I can’t possibly come over Jen. I have to catch a red-eye flight tonight. In fact, I was just about to leave for the airport.”
“Wha..? Where you going? For how long? With who? That woman? What’s her name…Laura?”, she fired off.
Same old Jen.
I refused to bring Lauren into it-especially since she stopped seeing me when she found out my crazy ex had damaged her car.
“I’m going away alone, on business, for a week.” (Oooh, why didn’t I say two?), “and when I get back, we can talk. Now I really have to go. Goodbye.”
As I hung up I could hear her frantic cries, “No, please, let’s talk now! I’m gonna slit my wrists! Ple…”
I sat on the couch staring at the phone for a moment. She sounded so distraught I couldn’t help but feel a little bad. In spite of it all I still had a soft spot for her. I was all packed and ready and I did have some extra time so I decided to swing by her place on the way to the airport. I had to put an end to this madness. I’d be sympathetic about her job loss because that sucked but I’d have to explain once and for all that our relationship was over, that I would never move back in with her and in fact, I never wanted to see her again. Furthermore that she was to stop contacting, harassing, and following me or I’d get an order of protection against her. That should do it.
On the drive over, I promised myself that I would not be swayed by her feminine wiles, nor drawn into an altercation. Nor would I pity her-my usual downfall. The demise of our relationship was her fault. Her jealousy, suspicion and possessiveness had destroyed my feelings for her. I didn’t want to be mean but if need be, I would tell her this. And I would even lie and add that I am already serious about someone else. One thing was for certain: the relationship would end tonight.
When I got to Jen’s place it was dimly lit. The door was unlocked so I let myself in. I called out to her but got no response. I walked down the hall. I was annoyed. What was she up to now?
Then I saw her-lying face down on her bed, unconscious, with a bottle of oxycodone spilled out next to her. A half empty bottle of Jack Daniel’s stood on the nightstand. It wasn’t until I leaned over her that I noticed her left wrist had a huge gash across it, and blood was dripping from it onto the floor as it hung over the far side of the bed. I checked the pulse in her other wrist. I could barely feel it. She was also very pale and her breathing was shallow. I once took a CPR course and I knew her condition wasn’t good.
My first instinct was to immediately dial 911. But a sudden wicked thought stopped me. If Jen died, my problems would be over. I could live my life unencumbered, like I used to.
I caught myself. The right thing to do was to dial 911. I would do it for a stranger. This is Jen.
Yes, Jen, the woman who was making my life a living hell.
But I was a good person who always prided myself on doing the right thing. And I could get an order of protection if I had to.
But, then again, a protective order was just a piece of paper-it couldn’t stop her if she suddenly decided to cause me, or those around me, real harm. She clearly had no qualms about damaging property. Would she go further?
But calling 911 was the right thing to do.
Then again, how many of my future relationships would Jen destroy like she did with Lauren?
My ambivalence peaked. Then I made my decision…
It was Paulie who called me early Thursday morning at the hotel to tell me the tragic news of Jen’s untimely death. A chill ran down my spine. I tried to sound shocked and surprised, and in a way, I was. On the drive to the airport I had convinced myself that she would be fine despite my not calling for help. Someone would find her, I told myself. Besides, most of those pills were on the bed anyway, so she was probably just passed out drunk. She’d wake up in the morning with a cut on her wrist and a bad hangover. I managed to brush it off with cruel humor, ‘She won’t die, only the good die young’, and-even worse- ‘She won’t die, I don’t have that kind of luck.’ Then I was so busy with the conference I forgot about it.
Now I felt a terrible guilt. She really did die! I gently probed Paulie for details and more information. According to him, she had been dead almost three days before being discovered. He told me that it looked like suicide-booze and pills he thought, or maybe she slashed her wrists-he wasn’t sure. He said Jen was depressed over losing her job, according to her mother, who was the last person to ever speak with her, on Sunday night around 9pm. Then a coworker discovered her on Wednesday morning after she hadn’t shown up for their routine daily walk in two days and no one could reach her by phone.
We made small talk, how sad and unfortunate and the like… Of course I would be back in time for the wake I told him and would also attend the funeral mass- out of respect. Then he commented, “I know this might sound terrible dude, but she was seeing a head shrinker. She had major issues. Look on the bright side. Your problems with her are over!” That last remark unnerved me but I didn’t let on.
At the wake and funeral mass I was appropriately melancholy and reverent. As far as I could glean, there were no suspicions of any sort against me-even Jen’s mother gave me a big tearful hug. As far as I knew, no one had seen me entering or leaving Jen’s apartment. And as far as anyone else was concerned, I was on a plane headed out of town and had absolutely no contact with the dearly departed. Disturbingly, all of Jen’s co-workers, family and even her psychiatrist thought we were still together…some even offered me condolences! And those few who knew it, didn’t share the truth with them about our relationship. Why speak ill of the dead?
Most importantly, absolutely everyone (including Paulie) believed that Jen committed suicide because she lost her job and that her mother was the last person to have contact with her on that fateful Sunday night.
Only I knew differently. And at the mass I couldn’t look up at the crucifix. I worried about being found out by the authorities. If they checked the phone records they would see that she called me last. What if her neighbors had seen me, or my car, at her apartment that night and decided to tell the police? I worried especially about that one neighbor who had given me the evil eye as the police had escorted me from Jen’s apartment that time. I even thought she gave me the evil eye again at the wake-or was I just paranoid?
As it turned out my fears of being revealed were, like Jen herself, short lived. Within days the coroner had certified the cause of death as exsanguination-she bled to death. Shortly thereafter, the police, having investigated the scene, spoken with her mother and taken into consideration Jen’s psych history and recent job loss, officially declared it a suicide and closed the case.
I soon stopped looking over my shoulder, stopped expecting to be discovered, stopped wondering if the police would come knocking on my door. But even after I knew no one else would ever find out the truth, I still felt guilty. I knew.
Over and over, I regretted having gone to Jen’s place that cold, awful night-oooh, why didn’t I just go straight to the airport? At the same time, I knew that what was done was done and I could not change it. So I tried to forget and move on. I even managed to resurrect my relationship with Lauren and things were going quite well.
But I still couldn’t return to the joys of a normal life. A little voice kept nagging and tormenting me. It was my conscience. And it began to bother me more and more.
I tried to tell myself it wasn’t my fault. I wasn’t even sure I had committed a crime. After all, I didn’t kill Jen. She did it to herself.
But that voice inside me would not be still-especially today.
It was one year ago today that Jen died. So when I mentioned to everyone that I was going to St Michael’s no one questioned why. Little did they know.
I looked up at the crucifix with tears in my eyes.
I was the real reason Jennifer sought to end her life.
And worst of all, I did nothing to save her. I left her to die…and I needed to tell someone. I could no longer keep it inside.
The slam of a door startled me from my reflection.
I looked up to see Father O’Donnelly entering the church.
It was time to make my confession.