I’ve never been very charged up about New Years. So when my best friend, who bartended at a local martini lounge, offered me a last-minute "shot girl" gig on December 31st, 2006, I jumped on it.
Darren, my fiancé of almost 4 years, hadn't expressed interest in doing anything, and getting paid to deal with drunk people is better than having to share space with them and pretend to be having a good time.
She told me I needed be there at 9:00 PM and ask for Brad, the security manager.
For reasons that still aren’t clear, I felt instant chemistry with this Brad person the second I walked in the door. He was bespectacled, bald and 17 years my senior. He was friendly, though, and beyond helpful that night, even when I accidentally threw away an expensive bottle of champagne.
As we cleaned up after the party, he looked at me across a confetti-strewn table and said, "You really have a nice smile."
Thus began a second job for me as a cocktail waitress at this martini lounge. It also marked the beginning of a deluge of compliments, observations, and even a handwritten poem that solidified my realization that Darren and I were not meant to be married.
I unceremoniously broke off our engagement on Valentine's Day and spent that night snowed in at Brad’s sparsely-furnished apartment, listening to Nina Simone, eating pistachio ice cream and feeling deliriously content.
A month-and-a-half later, we were married.
Narcissists can be very charismatic and persuasive. (They) are prone to falling madly in love with someone instantly and are very quick to commit.
From the beginning, Brad said everything Darren never bothered to say. Even on a busy Saturday night when the lounge was full of beautiful trust-fund babies, he made me feel gorgeous, important, interesting.
He asked the right questions and remembered little details. He'd bring an energy drink for me on Fridays, knowing I had just come from my day job as a reporter for a local newspaper, and he'd tactfully step in if an over-served patron became inappropriate.
He did it all effortlessly, without pushing his boundaries, and it took no time at all for me to find excuses to seek out his attention. My best friend tried to warn me, saying Brad wasn’t all he appeared to be, but I ignored her, assuming it was jealousy talking.
Now that I have the gift of hindsight, I can see all the red flags staked into our timeline. The first was planted the morning after our first night together. Brad was in the shower and his phone, lying on the nightstand beside me, received a text message. I glanced over at the phone.
"Happy belated Valentine's Day, sweetie!" the text from "Amanda" read. "Hope to see you later."
I felt white-hot fury and shame swelling behind my eyes and spreading into my stomach and fingertips. I silently got dressed in clothes not at all suited for excavating my car from under a foot of snow, and that's where Brad found me, shaking from anger and cold and scooping snow off the windshield with my bare hands.
Once he convinced me to come back inside, he told me that I was lucky he still wanted to take a chance on me after I had violated his trust. It made sense at the time; surely I was just nervous about rushing into something so soon after breaking off my engagement.
Brad had impeccable tastes in food, clothing, wine, furnishings. We didn’t have the funds to support his inclinations, however. We were down to one car when his 1980s Honda finally croaked; he'd shuttle me to and from my day job, but otherwise, he had the car.
Fortunately my parents loaned us $4,000 to buy another elderly Honda; Brad and I had both quit the nightclub and he started working at a grocery store in the next town over. Right before that, he spent our last $50 on lottery tickets. I had to contact a local food bank that month for groceries.
Our wedding was tiny -- held in my parents' house with only immediate family members attending. I said it was because I'd planned a big wedding with Darren and look where that got me, but the truth was we were broke.
I was paying penalties for broken leases and wedding contracts, and Brad claimed to be struggling from paying child support to his son, Zach, from a previous marriage. So I bought my own engagement ring and began to write checks to his lawyer's office every month. If I forgot, Brad would wonder aloud if I was trying to sabotage our family.
Our fights grew exponentially. The newspaper assigned me to interview a personal trainer who, with his shaved head and dark-rimmed glasses, resembled Brad.
When I told Brad about it, he became convinced I was sleeping with his doppelganger. It became such a fixation that he started rifling through our dirty clothes hamper to inspect my underwear for any suspect fluids.
He then began handling the laundry altogether because he thought I might wash something before he could examine it. I passed off the assignment to someone else so I could have some peace, at least when it came to the laundry.
One weekend when I was home alone, I decided to clean out Brad's beat-up filing cabinet. Papers had been thrown in its drawers to the point that they would barely close. Brad swore everything in there was necessary, but I had checked it out before and found it full of decades-old receipts and empty envelopes.
Most of it was junk, but I did come across some legal files that looked important. Amongst the clutter, I found a copy of a court-appointed psychiatric evaluation of both Brad and Zach's mother Jenny.
Brad had told me that Jenny suffered from Borderline Personality Disorder, and her refusal to accept it was ultimately why they broke up.
Jenny's evaluation came out clean as a whistle. Brad, however, was diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder by two independent psychiatrists.
My basic college psych courses had skimmed over personality disorders, but I knew that they were deeply ingrained and difficult, if not impossible, to treat. Suddenly, the memories of our disagreements began to take on a different shape. It wasn't me, I thought. I didn't cause this.
I was exhausted by the time I finished sorting through the stacks; not only had I learned that my husband was mentally ill, he had been taken to small claims court no less than five times and owed hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid taxes. The poem he had written me had been given to several other women. And he was from New Jersey.
I put all that information into the appropriate folders, shut the drawer and said nothing.
The final straw for me wasn’t the discovery of Brad’s past. It happened when we took Zach to a public pool. At this point, I weighed about 105 stressed-out pounds. Brad critiqued my bikini that morning, so I opted for a one-piece.
Even so, he continued to make snide remarks once we arrived at the pool about how fat and slutty I looked. I went down the water slide with Zach and the top of the suit shifted slightly.
Brad noticed immediately, pulling me out of the pool and telling me "You look like shit and no one wants to see it."
While he and Zach were in the bathroom, I left the complex barefoot. There were virtually no other businesses or homes nearby. I finally found a bait shop and used their phone to call Zach's mom, Jenny. She drove me home with no questions asked, offering a sympathetic ear as I recounted my experience and the ones before it.
Brad arrived back at the apartment a couple hours later, railing about how he thought I'd been abducted. He demanded to know how I'd gotten home.
"I called Jenny," I said simply.
A fight ensued, one that lasted well into the night, topped off by Brad threatening to call the police if I didn't leave. I still didn't have any of my stuff, having abandoned it at the pool, so I drove the hour-and-a-half to my parents' house at 2:00 in the morning with nothing but the clothes on my back.
I made the decision to leave Brad for good on that drive. I had left him before, but this time I knew we had hit a wall, and I could continue beating my head against it or turn around and walk away.
After eight years of being independent, I moved back in with my parents. I resigned from my job and transferred to a different college. With Brad texting and calling 15 hours a day, spouting off quotes from Revelations and calling me bizarre names, I changed my phone number.
Worst of all, I walked away from my relationship with Zach, who had just recently asked if he could call me Mommy.
With no job and a lot of free time, I began to research narcissism and understand its devastating effects. Brad had basically severed ties with his whole family; he didn't even attend his mother's funeral.
He'd been evicted from several homes and fired from countless jobs for his poor performance (although he constantly bragged about his abilities and intelligence). He'd destroyed pieces of Jenny's artwork, gave away my grandmother’s heirloom quilt, and erased the hard drive on one of his employees' computers, offering no apologies.
All of these behaviors are classic indicators of NPD, as is the inability to own up to any of it. This, as I learned, places nearly all the responsibility on the partner. After 18 months, it was a load I couldn't shoulder anymore.
It should come as no surprise that our divorce was difficult. Brad didn’t have a lawyer, so he called mine and ranted to her on my dime. It was like pulling teeth to retrieve my things from his storage unit. He actually did pay most of the car loan back to my parents, which was a huge shock to all of us.
After the divorce was finalized, he abruptly moved out of the state, leaving no forwarding address and yet another trail of bad debts and broken promises.
It’s been almost nine years since that night at the martini lounge. I am almost 35 years old. I am writing this from my beautiful house set on eight acres in the country. I finished my bachelor's degree and have a great job writing web content, with some graphic design and photography projects on the side.
My home is quiet now, but soon my husband and 3-year-old son will return from playing in the creek behind our house, and then it will be filled with the sounds of some cheesy old country song while our adorable son runs around, chasing the cats and singing along.
Later I will make dinner, tuck our boy into bed, and thank God for the blessings of calm and comfort. My husband is patient and kind, never raises his voice or jumps to conclusions. He encourages me. He has a good job and no enemies. He isn't perfect, but he's damn close.
I don't know anything about Brad’s life now. Most of my current friends have been surprised to find out I was married before; the isolation coupled with the short duration of our marriage means it's not a well-known event.
I don’t think of myself as a victim of abuse, although I understand that's probably what I was. I was just vulnerable, ready for a change and in need, just like all people who find themselves in these situations. Now I am different. I am wary of charismatic strangers and I catch myself wondering about others' motives. I take daily medication to keep my anxiety under control. I still worry that I'm a burden to the people who love me.
I will never be the same person I was before New Year's Eve 2006, but I'm thankful for what I have today.