By Megumi Ohsumi
I was the booty in his makeshift Garden of Eden. In his quest for an illusory identity, he metamorphosed from the old to new. He elided his given name, Jeremiah, and fashioned himself as Mark, a single man. Albeit only for a fleeting period in our lives, I was the medium through which he could lead a life in the optative, not indicative, mood. However, once the truth hit me and my gaze shifted from idolization of a rare-gem bachelor to a married father of three, the spark and titillating excitement were gone from his eyes.
“Art possesses the ability to create truth. It is art that allows truth to originate.” I heard myself recite across an auditorium packed with some eighty undergraduates. The distinctive echo of the microphone, and perhaps my unduly high level of anxiety, permeated every corner of the room. As I continued the lecture on Martin Heidegger in my survey course in literary theory, I glanced at my smartphone to see that I had a missed call from the local police department.
It was an intricate labyrinth that Mark lured me into, an elaborate work of art, the blueprint of which I may never be endowed with the competence nor opportunity to decode. He intermingled fact with fiction, so much so that the liminality was barely, if at all, discernible. Even today, much of the truth remains nebulous. Mark was an impostor who wheedled his way into my psyche in more ways than one.
In the weeks leading up to my resolve to finally consult the police, I had been receiving anonymous, typed letters in the mail. There were no names of sender or addressee, which rendered it almost impossible to decipher whether I was the target. However, the fact that I had been living in the unit for over four years made it highly unlikely that it was for a previous tenant or anybody else who may have been affiliated with the apartment in the past.
They were epistles, not necessarily poetic but somehow philosophical in their style and lyrical in their flow, and it was evident that they were drafted by a cerebral and erudite mind. I did not find the content to be overtly licentious, but then again, any witty pun could be construed as such.
Around that time, I was frequently distressed by a stranger knocking on my apartment door and pressing the intercom from the entrance lobby on the first floor. I never answered the intercom nor the front door unless if I knew whom or what I was expecting, such as a delivery man with a package. I thought that ignoring once or twice would do the trick and the man would go away, yet he was persistent.
The events did not always occur on the same day and in that order, so I could not assume that it was a neighbor in that residential building. Nor could I jump to the conclusion that it was always the same person, for there could have been multiple people working as a team. The knocks and the ringing of the intercom came in different combinations. Sometimes I would hear a knock at eight o’clock in the morning, and then twelve hours later I would hear the bell of the intercom. It happened once or twice every day, though never more than that. Instinct told me that these activities were conducted by one and the same party, although I had no way of knowing then that that was indeed the case.
I called the resident manager because I wanted to have the security cameras checked. Tapes caught glimpses of the stranger’s back on different days as he was walking away from my door and heading towards the elevator. He sported a white T-shirt and black shorts, and he wore slippers on his feet and no hat on his head. There were no distinctive characteristics, neither in his stature nor his gait. It could have been anybody.
Though unbeknownst to me then, it was a man whom Mark had hired in his far-fetched scheme to work me up into a disquieted state, in the hopes that my judgment would be severely impaired.
I met Mark at a themed party in a local bar. He came up to me and chatted me up.
“How do people keep in touch around here?” He asked for my number without reservation.
My friend who had coaxed me into coming with her that night teased me as we prodded billiard balls, pretending as if we knew how to play the game. I saw him follow me with his eyes a while later as I threw on my winter coat and left the venue.
Mark texted me the evening after. It did not occur to me then that the familiar rhetoric of courtship was being uttered by a man who had no intention of breaking the conjugal vows which he had exchanged two decades ago with his college sweetheart.
We spent a good six months enjoying coffee, museum visits, and movies, and he did not lay a finger on me. He did not ask about my past relationships, and he was evasive when I asked him about his. Perhaps it was that seemingly gentle, inoffensive disposition of his that induced me to keep seeing him.
“Scary, isn’t it?”
I was relieved by his expression of compassion when I texted Mark about the recent incidents around my apartment which jarred on my nerves. In retrospect, I should have known that, despite my providing only a synopsis within the limited word count of a text, he had such a comprehensive grasp of the situation that there was almost no need for any explanation.
He offered to check my unit and its surroundings when we meet next. Up until then, he did not even know where I lived. Or so I thought.
“Somebody writing anonymous letters like these is beyond creepy.” He postulated the abnormality of the situation as we sat together on my couch.
I shrugged. Although assailed by doubt and fear, I was still not entirely convinced.
“It’s eerie that the knocking and all have been going on for three consecutive weeks. I think you’re being desensitized.”
I finally gave in and acquiesced to his proposal that we turn to the police.
We put the phone in speaker mode so that both of us could participate in the call, but he took charge and made sure that I need not speak a single word. He made apposite remarks, nodded at the right moments, and his dialectic with the police sounded like one eloquent disquisition. That he identified himself by a different name, Jeremiah, than what he went by with me had a galvanizing effect on me, but he continued as if he did not notice anything.
“Don’t worry. I’ll stay with you.” He reassured me afterwards that I was not going through this alone and volunteered to stay overnight.
My agreeing to date him that evening ironically became the harbinger of our demise yet also, eventually, my salvation. He confessed that he was divorced with children, the eldest of whom had just celebrated his eighteenth birthday. He had become a father at a young age.
I was stunned by the disclosure of his divorced status. It initially eluded me that, later in that conversation, he had revised his status as separated but not yet divorced on paper. He was renting a large studio approximately an hour away from the one-bedroom apartment where I lived, and his wife and children occupied a three-bedroom condo halfway across the country. He always requested to be transferred to work locations where he must live apart from his family. Mark led a palimpsestic life in which he deftly played with the cognate terms of divorce, separation, and living apart.
We took turns shuttling ourselves back and forth between our workplaces and abodes so that we could see each other every day. The added commute was taking a toll on us both, but neither suggested a hiatus. I basked in the comfort of having somebody to come home to each evening.
Throughout that time, though, there was an aporetic monologue reeling in my head, and it took me a while for the truth to impinge upon my mind. The dissolution of the relationship ensued quickly after.
“There is no space for me in your life. You’re a family man after all.” I texted him as I waited for him to return from work.
Without meaning to, I had pulled the trigger. That was not the identity which he believed he had constructed before my eyes. His tone changed, and he broke up with me, as easily and swiftly as one would snap a twig from a tree. Some of my friends saw it as a callow act, as I was suddenly given short shrift. However, notwithstanding the copious tears, I felt a sense of relief.
“A guy would go to all lengths if he really wanted you.” A male colleague suspected connivance when I told him about the breakup and how the letters, knocks, and the ringing of the intercom receded in frequency and came to a complete halt soon thereafter.
I was dismissive of the idea and contended that it was too intricate and complex a plot to implement. There were too many logistic obstacles to surmount. It did not seem befitting for Mark, a man who maintained such a teleological approach to life, to wager so much on a scheme in which the chances of success were woefully slim.
“I would not rule out any scenario as a viable possibility.” The colleague persisted.
It was quite some time before I encountered, inadvertently and by yet another strange turn of events, corroborating evidence that Mark had indeed staged it all.
As pedagogues, we present our students with facts and figures in our best attempt to develop their analytical and critical thinking skills. And yet there are facts that we will never have access to. There are truths that are too disconcerting to face or are mindboggling because they are relentlessly open to interpretation. When we are accorded only limited vision in a given circumstance, draining our wisdom and integrity on speculation produces no fruitful result. Our quest for truth at times entails accepting its unavailability. Sometimes letting go of that query becomes the challenge.
On the day after the police closed the case, I opened my lecture with Jacques Derrida and introduced Claude Lévi-Strauss’s famous nature-culture dichotomy as one way to debunk structuralist methods.
To this day, I feel the pendulum oscillate within me. On the one hand, I am cognizant of the fact that Mark is an itinerant philanderer whose intemperate and immoderate indulgence will not subside. I was a temporary stimulant, an upper in his otherwise mundane routine facing staid realities.
He treated reality as if a panopticon in which he stood atop the control tower. He was smart enough to exhibit loyalty, but he was ready to disavow any earlier actions or statements at a moment’s notice.
In spite of it all, however, he always manifested perspicuous insight and was gifted with the ability, almost to an uncanny degree, to argue cogently and to appeal to reason. Thus, on the other, I find myself still in awe of his judgment and brilliance, so much so that I wonder if he really was such a malign influence.
After the truth finally hit me that I was at best a short-listed candidate for a clandestine girlfriend, a sense of ethics militated against developing this into a full-blown liaison. I did not want Mark to repudiate his wife and children. Nor did I wish for his family to disaggregate. Those around me lauded me for my unflinching determination to walk out of the relationship immediately.
I am no saint, though. It is simply that, at my age, it is not unfathomable to step inside the shoes of the wife and walk around in them. I did not desire to find myself in a mire of legal entanglements, either.
For now, I have yet to decide on the legacy of the experience, to carefully consider what meaning I attach to it, and see what truth originates from it.