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Who Is Su

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In 2007, the boys were away at school, Kassidy was speeding through high school, and Su, no longer working at the gym, found herself with free time. She spent much of it walking the dogs. During one walk Benjamin called from Los Angeles, asking if she knew about MySpace. “My space?” she asked. When she got back home, on her computer screen she read: “Jim Meck. North Potomac, Maryland. Single. No Children.”

Even though they were arguing frequently, she chose not to pursue it. She was soon enrolled at Montgomery College, and was struggling. One Saturday morning, however, Jim called her into their library. They’d been talking about marriage counseling, and Jim wanted to show her an online program he’d found. The questions started out banal enough, asking each about their partner’s favorite color, favorite food. The last was: “Have you ever had an affair?” They sat together to review each other’s answers. When they got to Jim’s last, Su wrote, “My world as I knew it ended.”

Surreptitiously, Jim’s life had also split. He acknowledged multiple affairs, including a woman he was still seeing whom he’d met in California on a business trip. He’d patronized strip clubs from Thailand to Crystal City, Virginia, where he sometimes engaged in group sex. Jim also disclosed that the family was hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt. He held, and had maxed out, more than 30 credit cards, some in her name. In response, Su gathered all the jewelry he’d ever given her—including her wedding ring—and sold it at a pawnshop for $350. For a long time she hated him overtly, but the betrayal also, somehow, motivated her. She threw herself into Kassidy’s and her own studies. Eventually, Jim moved back up from the downstairs guestroom.

In his confession, Jim blamed his infidelities on the chasm that had developed between them after her accident. He’d seriously contemplated leaving her but couldn’t bring himself to do it. In her living room in Northampton, Su told me she thought there was more to this than benevolence. “I think part of it is he got the chance to—and this is going to come off as really evil—he had the chance to have his cake and eat it too,” she said.

She was clearly conflicted. She and Jim will sometimes finish each other’s sentences; they share inside jokes. And yet: “If I were to be on my own recognizance,” she said, “I would watch every penny of where my money goes.” He demands to know her passwords; he reads her texts and emails, often before she does. “And again, I think it goes back to a time when he did have to look over and protect me from, I don’t know. But he still does that, and that sort of rubs me the wrong way.”

“And so,” I began—

“Then why am I still here?” she interrupted. “Because I can’t imagine life without him.” She wonders what would happen if she began randomly wandering around, lost. She is aware of how dependent she has been on her children, and without Jim, she’d be even more so.

“So, no—it’s a very good question,” she said. “I ask myself that all the time.” She said he “gets really, really angry; he has a temper and a half.” Her voice trailed off. “But, you know—the devil you know, right?”

I wondered how the children felt hearing this. When he was a young child, Benjamin said, his father was a perfect foil for his intense curiosity, someone who, when asked why the sky was blue, actually knew the answer. He then recalled being about 17, when he and his father were in the kitchen arguing; the fight escalated, and as his father “came at me with arms up,” Benjamin took the jagged lid of a can he was opening and “did a wild slash and laid his whole arm open.”

“It was terrible,” Su recalled solemnly.

“Yeah, it was awful,” Benjamin agreed.

Looking down at her iPhone, Kassidy said, “For years, my mom slept in my room on the other bunk bed. ” Jim spent holidays “with his own parents, or he’d be, like, working.” She’d found a strategy to get along with him. “The way I deal with people—and not that my dad is an enemy—but people who I don’t like, I’ll find something natural to talk about. So if he picks me up from school or whatever, instead of sitting in silence, because that’s not interesting for anybody, I’ll randomly tell him stories about classes or books or discussion. He sees that as the best memories of his life; for me, it’s just passing the time.” Like Benjamin, she acts as a frequent mediator. “I’ll stick up for my mom when my dad’s talking down to her or yelling at us.”


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