My ex conned me for years.
I was 19, and he was 18. We had just moved in together and felt extremely adult (spoiler alert: we weren’t). It was Sunday morning, and I was lying on the floor reading the paper while he made breakfast.
“Are you at the comics yet? Will you read me the comics?” he asked.
“Read you the comics? What are you talking about?”
“Describe what is happening in each panel and read me the dialogue.”
“Um… how about if I just set them aside for you?” Reading the comics aloud felt weird; why would anyone want that?
He stood over me, looking down at me lying on the floor. “I can’t read them later. I’m dyslexic. If you loved me, you would read them to me.”
He had a smile on his face as if he was daring me to disagree. Dyslexic? He was in college and hadn’t mentioned it in the months we had been dating. But I did love him, and I didn’t want to downplay something that could be a hurtful subject. “Okay, let’s start with Snoopy.”
That started a tradition of reading to Eric, one that lasted years. At night I would read to him before bed. I read sci-fi, adventure, even romance. And, of course, the Sunday comics. It was an activity that we looked forward to, and we worked to make time every night for a chapter or two.
At the same time, Eric took a heavy load of five classes at university while I worked to save for my next year of college. He studied diligently, earning a perfect 4.0 each semester, and only asking for occasional spelling help. I was proud he was overcoming his obstacles.
One Sunday, we went to his parent’s house for dinner. As we were eating, Eric mentioned the book we were reading and that I read it aloud each night. His dad put down his fork. “Audrey reads to you? Whatever for?”
“Because of the dyslexia,” I said, confused.
Eric snickered and said, “Yes, the dyslexia.”
His parents and sister all looked at each other and chuckled.
Bewildered, I looked at all of them, wondering if I had been part of an extended practical joke. “Eric does have dyslexia, doesn’t he?”
“Oh, yes, he does. Absolutely” his dad replied, looking sincere.
I looked at Eric, confused. He said, “Yes, I do. Would I lie?”
I accepted his answer. We stayed together, got married, moved around. I was in charge of paying all the bills and doing the budget because Eric said it was difficult for him to concentrate on numbers. I read all the rental agreements, filled out the taxes, did all the stuff that required reading or numbers so that Eric could focus on school work. I didn’t mind doing all the mundane paperwork, although sometimes it would have been helpful if Eric had pitched in.
A good friend of ours started falling behind in school, and was diagnosed with dyslexia. The university helped him arrange accommodations such as extra time to take tests. I asked Eric why he didn’t ask for accommodations, at least in the classes with a lot of reading on tests. Eric said he didn’t want to have his condition on his school record — just in case it worked against him when applying for medical school.
Years later, when Eric was in residency, I worked two jobs, commuted 90 minutes each way, and carried a full university load. I forgot to pay a utility bill and came home to a shut-off notice. Eric arrived home to find me in tears, hysterically going over all our bills.
“I can’t keep up; I just can’t!!” I was overwhelmed, exhausted and stressed out.
Eric stepped in and said he would take over the bill paying. I thanked him effusively, noting how hard it would be for him, what with his dyslexia.
“Dyslexia? I don’t have dyslexia. What are you talking about?”
I stared at him, dumbfounded. “You told me you did! The reading out loud to you? The contracts I read, the paperwork, the bills? The times you TOLD me you had dyslexia????”
“Oh yeah, that was a joke. I thought you liked reading out loud to me.” As I sat there, stunned, he explained that I should be doing all the paperwork anyway since he had the more important job. But he was willing to take over the budgeting because he could see how much it weighed on me.
His lie had continued for approximately 12 years. Dyslexia wasn’t something mentioned once and never again. It was part of the fabric of our lives, something we discussed every so often. The way he brushed off this 12 -year lie continued with other deceptions and half-truths throughout our marriage. This was one way that Eric worked to keep me anxious, on edge, and small during our marriage. One small drop in the ocean of control and abuse.
Audrey Zetta is a writer living in LA. Audrey is exploring the subtle signs and methods of abuse — and how to escape from it — during the month of February. She uses a pseudonym when writing about her marriage. You can connect with her on twitter @sweetandzesty.