"Just promise me one thing," my soon to be ex-husband says.
This essay begins at the Russian Samovar. My ex and I are discussing our divorce over carafes of vodka. We agree to split the Roth IRA, which is in his name. He tells me to keep the ring. He's a musician and I'm a writer. There's not much to divvy up.
We separated a year and a half prior. He wanted an open marriage and I didn't. We were married for five years and together for ten. Towards the end of our separation, he asked me to reconsider an open marriage and refused to give me a divorce. Maybe he wasn't really into polyamorism, he'd say. Maybe we could make it work. Just when I would begin to think this was a phase for two people who got married young, he'd say that he didn't think monogamy was for him.
Tonight he's showing off some new vocabulary—he talks about the life he'll have after we divorce and refers to himself as "poly." I feel like I'm watching a movie about someone else's life.
I slug the garlic vodka that's meant for sipping and pour another shot. Even in this moment, as my ex tells me about the life he's planning after I'm gone, I manage to feel intense love for him. I empathize with him and his struggle to define the kind of life he wants. I am grateful to have an ex I can drink vodka with. I'm feeling magnanimous.
"OK," I say, "what's the request?"
Full disclosure: As soon as my husband decided he wanted an open marriage, I got myself a married boyfriend. Other than that, I'd never cheated on my husband, except once when I gave a guy a blowjob. So, anyway, technically, I was poly, maybe, but one who believed in non-disclosure.
He stirs the horseradish vodka with his finger. "Just promise not to write about me," he says.
I leave The Samovar and meet up with my married boyfriend. In fact, that's really where the essay begins.
We're drinking wine in a hotel bathroom.
"I've got this idea for an essay," I say. I'm sitting on the sink with my feet on the toilet. The cork bobs inside the bottle, stopping the flow of wine as I pour. We always forget a wine opener. He pushes the cork into the bottle with a pen and a key.
"I've got all these men in my life telling me to be quiet," I say. "First of all, my husband has the audacity to string me along for a year and a half and then asks me not to write about it."
"I love it," he says. "You should call it, ‘My Manhood.' I think I even know where you could place it."
"Just one thing," he says. "I'm not in it, right?"
We've been continuing to see each other for the past year during my separation. He likes to call me his girlfriend. We talk about art when we're not having sex. Sometimes he tells me about the things he'll do when he's divorced. He is not a real boyfriend, and sometimes I wonder if these rendezvous actually happen.
I assure him that the essay won't be about him. In fact, it's not even about my ex-husband, it's actually about my former boss.
The essay definitely begins in a glass building on the far side of town—an Internet holding company where I worked as an assistant before graduate school. It's the summer of 2010, and I've just been accepted into the Sarah Lawrence writing program. I've given my notice and join the company for one last extravagant, summer soirée on the executive deck.
The former head of my department has been appointed CEO of a major dating site, which is owned by the corporation. He is the most senior person present at the soirée. Let's call him Jim.
Jim's voice booms and echoes even in the open air of the deck. He's known for his loud speaking voice and inappropriate advances. He shouts out an invitation for an after party at The Park-a bar around the corner.
Those of us left at the party follow Jim to The Park. Most of us work within the corporate structure—Human Resources, Legal, and assistants from the executive floor. I am ready to go home but have agreed to share a cab with my best friend who lives in the same neighborhood as me.
I sit tight at the bar, next to one of the newer assistants. She is a second assistant. Her job is to schedule appointments and pick up lunch for her boss. She works on the executive floor with Jim. She's getting pretty drunk. I watch over her like a big sister.
Jim saunters up to my little sister at the bar. He talks to her and puts his hands on her legs. I count three people from HR in the room.
Then, he puts his arms around her and elbows me in the process. I tap him on the shoulder and tell him to get out of my space and back off the girl.
"What's your problem?" he says, "You've always had a fucking problem." Jim can tell I don't respect him, and I most certainly don't want to fuck him.
"My problem is you," I say.
Now Jim is close to my face. The music is loud and everyone is talking. No one sees his fingers come inches from my face as he labels me, "You know what you are?" he says, "You're just a little fucking cunt." Each word—little-fucking-cunt—is punctuated by a jab of his fingers pointing closer and closer to my face.
The next day, I receive an email from Jim asking me to come down to his office to speak in private. Come down to my office means, I don't want anyone to know that I called you a cunt, and I want to make sure we're on the same page about it. I don't give him the satisfaction of listening to his private "apology," and manage to avoid him during my last two weeks at the office.
I resist writing about the cunt incident for years. "Isn't it bad karma to write an exposé?" I ask my friends and former colleagues.
Two years later I'm having coffee with my friend Anna. I tell her about my idea for the essay, but that I'm not sure I want to write it. Writing the essay means associating myself with a messy divorce, a married boyfriend, and a boss who called me a cunt. And what are the moral implications—what are the rules? Who am I to criticize an intercompany romance in the same essay I recount a conversation with my married boyfriend?
I call in sick to work and cook up a nice first draft. Afterwards, I take the train into the city to visit this editor I've been seeing, but, again, full disclosure: I'm omitting this section, because it was a short, not very interesting section, and he was the most insistent on being taken out of the essay. So anyway, he and I break up after a fight about the essay and something else I can't remember. I promise to go home and revise him out, but jump on the train to my friend Polly's reading series on the Upper West Side instead.
I arrive late—just in time to hear Gordon Lish heckle some poor kid, demand pot and Sweet'N Low, and then leave. Two men kiss me in the span of twenty minutes at this reading, which has become a party. Oh yeah, and it's all happening in Polly's parents' one-bedroom apartment.
I end up in the bedroom with the first one, sweet and kind. He asks if he can kiss me for just a minute. I let him, then push him away quickly. "I think it's been a minute," I say. Twenty minutes later, the second, a Scot, tells me he hasn't been able to stop looking at me all night, kisses me aggressively, and pushes me into the same bedroom I kissed the kid. He closes the door and tries to throw me down on the bed. I'm decently athletic, so I give him a nice shove into the closet and get back to the party.
An hour later the Scot slams some other girl against a wall and vanishes behind the bedroom door. They emerge sweaty and red. The girl tells my friend Polly, who is standing next to me, that she's going home with the Scot.
"He really likes me," she says. "He said he couldn't stop looking at me all night."
The Scot stands two feet back, eyeing me. He's either threatening me not to say anything or frightened that I'll throw him into another closet.
I go home and immediately revise the essay. I become obsessed with recording everything men don't want me to. Their motivation to quiet me seems to parallel, if not exceed, their motivation to be with, in, or around me. And why? Is it power, control, or simply bad behavior? I'll never know, so I might as well just speak for myself and say that the whole process is becoming a bit of an addiction. In fact, I'm really trying to quit, so I'll end here by saying that a few weeks ago, I was walking on the street with my married boyfriend. We saw Jim, the CEO who called me a cunt, standing beside his eight-pound West Village dog. Jim had a baggie in his hand. I don't work at Jim's company anymore, and when Jim saw me he had a look on his face just like his dog, who was taking care of business.
I kept walking, then turned back to make sure it was Jim. But Jim had vanished. And I'm sure he wouldn't want me to write this, but he hadn't even picked up his dog's poop.
N. Michelle AuBuchon holds an MFA in creative writing from Sarah Lawrence College and lives in Brooklyn.
In a project overseen by contributing editor Kiese Laymon, Gawker is running a personal essay every weekend. Please send suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Image by Jim Cooke, source photo via Shutterstock.