I read my boyfriend’s journal but wasn’t prepared for what it told me.
Finding Jacob’s journal isn’t hard because he’s never made an effort to hide it. Until now, I’ve never given him a reason to do so.
He left for work only minutes ago, kissing the bridge of my nose before slinging a worn JanSport over his shoulder and reminding me that he’ll be home in six hours, if I want to stay until then. I’d pretended to be half-asleep and lazily nodded my head.
In reality, I’ve been plotting this for days. I listen to Jacob’s Honda Civic pull away from the side of the house, wait several minutes and slide out from under the sheets while keeping my eyes trained on the closed bedroom door.
I realize I probably won’t find anything noteworthy, but I need the reassurance.
You have to understand that I wasn’t always like this. Before Jacob, I would’ve been horrified if you’d told me I was going to become that girlfriend, the crazy one who insists on checking her boyfriend’s texts before he can even open them. The one who calls his friends to crosscheck his alibis. Was Jacob at your house last night? Yeah, I’d never be that girl.
But then a year ago, I’d developed more-than-platonic feelings for a close friend, and the accompanying guilt I’d experienced had been overwhelming. I couldn’t maintain the charade, and I broke up with Jacob after a particularly explosive argument outside of a Starbucks.
We spent an entire summer apart, yet I found it impossible to move past the relationship. I pleaded with Jacob to take me back, and he did, but our relationship has suffered in the aftermath. Things are not the same; the balance is unevenly slanted in his favor. Jacob has the power, and he’s used it to fuck with me.
There are now other girls, though he denies their existences –- ones I watch him message on Facebook, ones he meets in smoky bars and at friends’ houses, ones whose calls I trace in his phone’s history while he’s in the shower. There’s one in particular –- Brenna is her name –- and though I have suspicions of what he’s done with her, I can’t accuse him of anything substantial. Until now, I’ve collected evidence but no proof.
So here I am, crouched on thinning carpet wearing only an oversized T-shirt, ravenously tearing through the pages of a tiny red Moleskine. I’m that girl.
It doesn’t occur to me that maybe I shouldn’t be dating someone whose journal I feel inclined to read, someone who is so dishonest that I defend breaching his privacy as necessary.
Instead, I find the most recent entry and begin to (unsuccessfully) scan each page for Brenna’s name. Some entries are so mundane (Ate at Sonic and watched "The Royal Tenenbaums") that I start to think I must’ve been delusional to suspect Jacob might be capable of such an exciting deception.
Her name appears without warning, buried in an entry from six days prior: Tess keeps freaking out about Brenna, but we’re seriously just friends. I don’t know what else to say to convince her of that.
The relief is instantaneous, and I chastise myself for doubting him. Once I’ve read all of the entries from the past two weeks, I decide I might as well continue. I want to know him, this version of his self he’s kept hidden from me despite our reconciliation.
“I can’t believe I just did that, but now that I’ve started I might as well keep going.”
An entry from March (it’s now June, if you were wondering) describes a dream, which strikes me as strange since Jacob keeps a separate notebook specifically for entries about dreams: I dreamed about Noelle again last night. We were making out in my bed, about to have sex, and then I woke up. I don’t know why I still think about her. I want to fuck her so badly. I think about it all the time, and I don’t think I’ll be able to stop until I actually sleep with her.
For a brief moment, I nearly convince myself that this must be a fictional piece, but denial can only last so long –- who the hell is Noelle?
Though I can’t remember Jacob mentioning her, I notice that she frequently resurfaces in the surrounding pages, an object of his –- often sexually explicit –- musings. Much more frequently than I do, at least. In fact, the entries in which I’m mentioned usually go something like this: "Saw Tess again today. Don’t really know what we’re doing."
The realization that our relationship hasn’t rearranged his life quite like it has mine violently assaults me. I’m ambushed by my own naivete.
And I can’t look at his ugly words anymore. Thoroughly confused, I lift my head, fixing my gaze on the large corkboard hung above Jacob’s bed. He’s pinned memories to this corkboard –- photographs he’s taken, concert ticket stubs, cartoons friends have penned in moments of boredom. He’s afraid of forgetting things, he’s told me, and he hopes these tokens might help him remember.
I focus on the photo placed at the center of the corkboard. It’s a candid portrait -– taken five years earlier –- of Jacob and his high school winter formal date, whose name I suddenly remember: Noelle.
I know her. Or of her, at least. She goes to my college. Conventionally pretty, one year older, in a sorority. Jacob and I have seen her on campus before, when he’s visited me. He called her a bitch both times, but back then I hadn’t realized that men who call women bitches often just haven’t gotten over the sting of being rejected by those women.
The bitter disgust that’s been mounting inside me has morphed into an uncontrollable, seething rage. Who exactly have I been dating for the past two years? I want to scream, to hit him. I did once in a crowded parking lot, a hard slap across the chest after he criticized a pair of shoes I was wearing.
But to hit him now doesn’t seem like enough. I consider other ways of making a statement -– I could rip out the pages of this stupid little book and scatter their wilted shreds around his room. I could write in red lipstick (or maybe my own blood?) on his wall, “YOU ASSHOLE” or something more cutting that’ll make him feel both humiliation and regret.
Instead, I decide to call Amanda, my closest friend since fourth grade, who consistently provides the sanest advice of anyone else I know.
“I’ve done something very bad,” I confess as soon as she answers her phone.
“Did you cheat?” she asks.
“No,” I say slowly. “I read Jacob’s journal.”
She insists that I have to confront him, or else my newfound knowledge is going to slowly devour me. “If you don’t bring it up, you’ll just become more resentful of him, and of yourself,” she says, and I know that she is right.
And so I meet Jacob for lunch, which ends up being a lot more depressing than dramatic. Any grand illusions I have of putting him in his place, of making him wish he’d never wronged me as I drive into the sunset with a cigarette hanging out of my mouth, disappear as soon as he begins to cry. It’s almost impossible to accuse someone who’s quietly weeping in a corner booth of a Taco Bell of wrongdoing.
“You’ve done the one thing I asked you not to do,” he whispers, staring at the plastic tabletop while choking on a guttural sob. “I will never be able to trust you again.”
Because he seems so pathetic and I have no other words, I find myself apologizing. I tell him I’m ashamed of what I’ve done, that I’ll overlook his indiscretion as long as he doesn’t break up with me. Even as I’m begging for his forgiveness, I know that I’m prolonging a relationship that’s desperately unhealthy and not likely to survive another summer.
But I don’t want to leave without knowing he loves me most.
Jacob tells me he’ll try to get over Noelle. Closure has been difficult, he admits, because their short romance ended in an unresolved argument. If I just allow him to call her one last time, he’s sure that his feelings will dissipate. She’s a fantasy he’s kept alive because he no longer knows the reality of her, can’t I understand?
I guess I can.
We last another six months before I realize I’m still not the one Jacob thinks about while brushing his teeth or driving to work. I no longer have the energy to spend hours analyzing Noelle’s online profiles, wondering what exactly makes her more desirable to him than I am. I tell him I think we need to stop seeing each other. It’s a clean ending, and I mostly manage to erase him from my life.
Now years later, I sporadically wake up to missed calls and emails from him. He wants me to join him on LinkedIn, or on Google Plus. But not on Facebook, because I blocked him after he refused to stop sending me friend requests.
There are times when I consider the sad truth that I may be Jacob’s new Noelle.
“He’s obsessed with you now,” friends tell me, “so you won!”
It doesn’t feel like I’ve won much, aside from some lingering trust issues. I had to leave him to steal her imaginary throne, a throne I’d gladly relinquish. And I pity the girl who comes next.