The following is an extract from A BEAUTIFUL, TERRIBLE THING by Jen Waite, a memoir detailing Jen’s suspicions and discoveries that her seemingly-perfect husband, and father of her newborn baby, fits the textbook definition of a psychopath. After stumbling upon an email three weeks after giving birth, Jen goes on a terrifying search for the truth.
The next morning, I sit with my mum and Louisa around the kitchen table as my dad makes omelettes.
“I really don’t think he’s having an affair. It’s just not possible. Maybe because he’s so overtired and overworked he’s making really bad decisions and doesn’t realise how inappropriate his behaviour is. He says he barely even knows this girl and that she keeps asking him for favours and he feels rude saying no so he keeps helping her with stuff. Like the apartment and the ride to the airport. I don’t know. . . ” My voice trails off.
I’m not sure who I’m trying to convince, my parents or myself. There is a part of my brain that has already added up all the facts. But there is a raw, almost animalistic force within my body that is clinging to the possibility that Marco is telling the truth.
“If you really want to know the truth, why don’t you check his phone records?” my dad says from across the kitchen. “I’m sure that will confirm exactly what Marco is saying. That they never talk. That they barely know each other.” His voice is encouraging, but his eyes are hard.
“OK. I will.” My stomach lurches and my hands shake, but I know what I will find. Marco is telling the truth. He has told me over and over and over. He is burned out. He is exhausted and overworked. But he is not having an affair. I open the computer and log into our Verizon account.
I fumble around for a few minutes on the website and finally figure out how to pull up the call log for the past month. I select his number and hit enter. I start scanning the month of January. So far, so good. My eyes flick over the numbers, willing the digits I have memorised not to appear. I scroll through the first of January to the tenth. Nothing. Not a single phone call between Marco and the girl. I start to breathe more normally.
“Nothing so far,” I say with a forced confidence. And then my stomach drops. January 11. 3:14 a.m. Outgoing call for seven minutes. That could be anything. It could be about closing the restaurant. January 12. Incoming call for twenty‑two minutes. No, no, no. January 13. Outgoing call, thirty‑seven minutes.
I have stopped breathing. I feel a searing heat creep into my face. January 14 to the end of the month is littered with her number. Two minutes. Fifty‑four minutes. Multiple times a day. There is an eleven‑ minute call last Sunday, his day off. We were together all day. My brain scans from the beginning of the day (brunch with Marco) to the end of the day (watching the first half of the Super Bowl with Marco and then picking up Seb for dinner).
There must be something wrong with the cell phone company records. Some kind of glitch in the system. Wait. I look at the time stamp again. 9:05 p.m., outgoing call. My heart pounds as I remember Marco dropping off Louisa, Seb, and me at home. (“I’m going to pick up lunch meat for Seb’s lunch tomorrow. We don’t have anything in the house. When is the last time you went grocery shopping?”) I push back my chair suddenly and stand up.
“Jen? Jen, are you OK?” my mum calls after me.
“Yes. I’m fine,” I say as I walk rapidly into the living room, up the stairs, into my bedroom, and shut the door.
“You piece of sh*t,” I scream into the phone as soon as Marco picks up. “How could you? How could you?” I can’t get any more words out. I am sobbing now. Gasping and choking on air that doesn’t seem to be entering my lungs.
“Jen, Jen, calm down. What are you talking about?” My husband’s voice is thick with sleep and he sounds... irritated. “I looked at our cell phone plan online. You call her every day. You called her when you went to the grocery store last Sunday? On your day off?” My voice is somewhere between furious and pleading with him to give me an answer that will somehow make this new information mean something other than what I know it means.
“OK. Jesus Christ. Yes. I like to talk to the person. OK? I haven’t touched her, I haven’t kissed her, I haven’t f*cked her. But I do like to talk to her.” Now he is screaming at me. “Do you want me to f*ck her? Do you? ” I hang up the phone, shaking. I power off my phone as a call comes in from my husband. The part of my brain that knew all along now tells the rest of me, definitively: Marco has a girlfriend.
I run back downstairs and sit down at the computer again. I bring up the call log. I force myself to scroll back, back, back, and then I find the date I am looking for. The day Louisa was born. My eyes scan the numbers quickly and then I see it. 2:03 a.m., outgoing call for forty‑three minutes.
David Gillespie knows how to spot a psychopath. Post continues after audio.
I remember Marco kissing my forehead. “I’m going to get some fresh air, baby, and maybe grab a bite. Do you need anything?” I shook my head no and smiled groggily at him through my epidural. A few hours later, I was pushing out Louisa, my eyes wild, Marco pushing my knee toward my chest, and I looked at him and said, “I can’t do this.” The doctor said very calmly to the nurse, “The baby’s heart rate is dropping. I need an oxygen mask and please get the vacuum ready.”
I looked around the room, thrashing my head from side to side as the nurse strapped on the oxygen mask until I heard Marco say, “Babe. Jen. Babe. Look at me.” I met his eyes, and he held me there. “Look at me. You can do this. You got this, babe. You got this.” And then one more push and I felt my body rip open, but I didn’t care because Marco was right, and I gripped his hand and screamed and I heard him say, “She’s here.”
A few hours before Louisa was born.
I stand up and I feel the ground come toward me and the world is black.
This is an extract from A BEAUTIFUL, TERRIBLE THING by Jen Waite, Penguin Randomhouse, RRP $34.95. Available now.