Puppets

I’ve been accused of being manipulative. I know I’m not. Instead, I’m able to convince people to do what they know is right. In situations where right and wrong are grey, they will follow their heart. I can’t think of one situation where people regretted their decision and blamed me for it. There are so many incidents where people apologized for not following my advice.

This used to be the way I made friends. I have an intuition and wit about me that people are attracted to. I’ve been called an “old soul” since I was a teenager. I always thought it was my morals and taste of music, but I learned I could also be wise when I needed to be.

The Nurse (after therapy)

One of the nurses I worked with at an emergency room went through a rough time with her husband. This was the same time I was going through a divorce. I knew her very well, and our relationship was strictly professional, but her husband was very possessive.

Around Christmas, the ER was constantly busy. Her husband came around quite frequently because she worked so much overtime. Over a few weeks, I noticed his appearance began improving, but his hostility was increasing. I knew he was cheating, but I could never tell her outright.

It was both our “Fridays” one night, so I asked her if she wanted to get a drink. I wasn’t interested, but I had an idea. If I could get her to think I was interested, her subconscious contempt for her husband might come forward.

At first, she hesitated. She had never been out with another guy, professional or not, in 17 years of marriage. Red flag. This guy had his claws dug in deep since they met. Eventually, I had to show her I still carried my wedding ring in my pocket, even though I was getting divorced, so she knew I was still in love with my soon-to-be-ex-wife.

We ran into one of my closest friends from work at the bar. He knew what I was up to. It’s as if we had that man-telepathy. He immediately walked up to me and said, “Nice to see you getting back out there after your divorce!”

She wasn’t confused. She was intrigued. I was a good-looking guy coming back on the market. Instead of getting uncomfortable and thinking I lied about wanting my wife back, she played along.

“All the nurses keep talking about how sweet and sexy he is, so I had to dive for him first,” she said, as she wrapped her arm around my waist. Success. Her mind is in the moment. She’s not worried about her ​husband right now. My buddy put his fist out for me to bump, but she beat me to it.

Now I’m starting to get worried! She’s never been one to have fun without her husband’s permission, but she’s thoroughly enjoying herself. This plan had succeeded beyond my parameters! 

We had a couple of drinks, just enough to take the stress of the hospital off. We talked about work, which was very pleasant. I wasn’t anything close to a nurse. I wasn’t even involved in patient care. Still, she could talk to me like any other nurse and I could follow along. She was smiling in a way I had never seen since I started working there.

We drank water for about an hour, and I walked her to her car. She looked worried, like she was afraid to go home.

“Is everything okay?” I asked.

“He’s not going to be happy. I’ve always been honest with him, but I don’t think I can tell him I went out with another guy, even a ‘married’ one,” she said. It wasn’t fear in her eyes.

“Do you want my number in case things get out of hand?” Please say no…

“He’d never do that. The problem is that I’ve been honest with him, but I don’t think he’s being honest with me,” she said. She’s finally realized what I’ve known for a while.

I gave her the expression of ‘I know, but I didn’t know how to tell you’. I put my hand on her​ arm to let her know it will be okay. She hugged me and said goodbye.

We saw each other at work three days later. She was in a very good mood. She told me that she confronted her husband about his behavior, and he confessed everything. She asked me if I’d help her with divorce papers, as they planned on keeping lawyers out of it.

She hugged me, very tight, and whispered, “Thank you.”

The Roommate (before Iraq)

I once had a lesbian roommate. She was 19, and I was 22. Due to my “old soul” morals, I didn’t keep alcohol in the house. She thought that was pretty cool of me. She still used a fake ID and went out on her own, but she respected me enough not to drink with me to keep both of us out of any trouble.

I was dating wantonly at the time. It was always strange bringing women around when my roommate was female, so she’d intentionally make my girlfriends uncomfortable by hitting on them. It would put their mind at ease, knowing she was one hundred percent gay. She was probably the second best wingman I’ve ever had.

One night, she went to visit her mother. I guess there was an uncomfortable conversation about her sexuality. She came home late that night, and I was up playing video games. She sat next to me and laid her head on my shoulder.

“I think I love you,” she said. What?

“Why do you think that? What happened with that cute redhead?” I asked, nonchalantly.

“I don’t think I’m really gay. I think that was just my teenage rebellion phase. You’ve just been so cool about things.” She locked her arm around mine.

“It’s not really my place to intrude. I respect your boundaries and your decisions,” I said. It was the truth. I left people to their own devices.

“It’s not that. You’re so caring and nice, even to some of those bitches you’ve brought by that didn’t deserve it. You have a huge heart.” I could feel her staring at me, so I tried to act like I was focused on killing Covenant in Halo.

“It’s healthy to be a good person. Maybe I can help a shitty person think about how they treat others. You used to be a real meanie, remember?” It’s true. She kicked me in the nuts the first time we met.

“Damn, you’re right!” 

She took a few minutes for that to sink in. I saved my game and switched to TV. Good ole Chappelle’s Show.

“Do you think I’m really gay?” She was asking for validation.

“I can’t answer that. I know that you would be an amazing girlfriend, but I can only tell you what’s in my heart, not yours.” That was a good answer, right?

“We’ve been living together for months, but I haven’t actually dated a woman. It’s always just a fling with a curious airhead. You’ve gone through five girlfriends. Not a single one was any good,” she laughed. She laughed at my pain, like a true friend. “Well, I probably think that because I want you to myself.”

It was at this point where I realized her mother’s words were bouncing around in her head. Her mom adored me. She was always comfortable with her daughter being gay until she met me. She always dropped hints about how we’d be good together. She would tell me how her daughter talked about me in high regards. She said the only reason she’d want her daughter to be straight is to be with me.

“Did you talk to your mom about this?” I figured I’d shoot from the hip at this point.

“We sort of had a fight about it. We’ve been fighting a lot about you lately,” she said. Okay, that kind of hurt. Was I really creating tension between her and her mother by not being an asshole?

“Look, I don’t want to change you. You’d never forgive me. Your mom would kill me for hurting you,” I told her. This won’t end well for me.

“Being around you makes me want to change myself. It’s healthy being good, right?” Touché. “You said I’d be an amazing girlfriend, too!” Dammit! Double touché!

“You need to do what is right for you. Forget what your mom said. Forget what I said. What do you really want to make you happy?”

She kissed me. It burned with more passion than any relationship I was in before that moment. She showed me what was truly in her heart.

We never slept together. We shared the same bed for the next few months, and usually just fell asleep talking to each other.

I could have been a chauvinist pig and coerced her into doing anything I wanted. I never preyed on her vulnerabilities. She was a very good friend, and I wanted what was best for her. It turned out, letting her love me was exactly what she wanted. I loved her, but we were both young and didn’t know what true love was.

I left for Iraq after spending a few months with her. I didn’t come back the same, and she saw that. We broke up after a couple of weeks. I was always drunk, and everything that was good in me died. I couldn’t put her through that. Her mother cried and cursed the military for taking me away.

I saw her a couple of year ago. She was married, and probably six months pregnant. I couldn’t talk to her. She deserved to be happy.

What I’ve Learned

Between being in Baghdad and starting my therapy, I was never the guy I was in my anecdotes above. I did manipulate people in those eight years. I didn’t want to be near people. My thoughts went wild with any kind of stimulation. I tricked people into going away. I lied. I yelled. I insulted.

There will be darkness, but the light shines brighter in the dark. I’ve survived the worst version of me, and now I’m picking up the wounded. Those that I hurt in those horrible times don’t understand me today. They have been hurt so badly, nothing I say today will make anything better, even if it makes perfect sense. They will ignore me. It’s not spite, it’s caution, and I can’t fault them for that.

Every time I overcome a bout of depression or anxiety, I come back stronger. The old version of myself is winning. I’m​ no longer a manipulator. People are no longer puppets. They’re my inspiration to be stronger for them, and for myself.

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