I've written and re-written this piece several times. I could speak these words easier than I can write them. There is something about speaking that makes it easier. The words evaporate, save for the ones that land in the memories of those around you. Words on a page, though, seem more threatening. They occupy a tangible space and wait. They are read and re-read and read again. He used to call me Banksy. I didn't know Banksy before I knew him, which seems poetic and appropriate. Banksy is a political graffiti artist. He uses satire to change the lens of popular narrative. One of the most powerful things about Banksy's art is that it speaks to transitions of power. His work creates a shift away from centralized authority and flies in the face of what we would consider accepted norms. Banksy, to some, is a hero. He brings forth a kind of conscious discussion that is, I think, necessary and filled with nuance. Banksy, to some, is a vandal. He is defacing something that doesn't belong to him and corrupting value. The parallels of my story and Banksy's story are significant. The parallels in your story and Banksy's story are significant. When you tell your story some might call you a hero and some might call you a villain. The truth is the middle. We are some of both and there is grace enough for us all to tell our stories and be just as messy as we are.
I was scrolling through Instagram one evening liking and laughing as I usually do. Instagram and Facebook had become my lifelines since my life was turned upside down. I was grappling to get well. My PTSD was in full effect. Nightly vivid rape nightmares woke me in a cold sweat and I would cry. I used to wonder why I survived all the sexual assault and molestation. My grandma still tells me that the only power I have is to tell my own story. I asked her once what I do when my story involves telling parts of other's stories. She always laughs and tells me without shame: "Don't do shit that you are afraid of people to talk about." I didn't really know him, save common acquaintances. Two of his friends founded a print shop that I worked with in the past. I'd eventually become employed by that same shop full time. I wondered how much he might have influenced that. We met once at a networking event and chatted. He was cute to me, but otherwise unimpressive. I think once, at the event, we discussed hot wings, tattoos, and roller derby. I remember his partner, who founded his first company with him, being obnoxious. He was obnoxious too... but only because he was so confident. He had the kind of confidence that most narcissists have: a wounded over-inflation of their own value. He reminded me of Garrett. That night, as I was scrolling, I left a comment on a picture he posted of his new t-shirts. He was launching another start-up. My comment was something about hoping he added diversity to his models and sizes.
That was it.
I don't remember if I gave him my number before or how we even started text messaging but he responded and pretty soon we were chatting via text. He wanted me to consider modeling for his new venture. I talked about the importance of size diversity or something like that and he agreed. He asked me how I was doing. He saw, like everyone else, the very public drama my family was attempting to navigate.
I don't know how it went left.
I think I asked him how he was and inquired about life. Normal pleasantries. He told me his life was shit. He explained what his relationship status was. We messaged back and forth until 4 in the morning.
I liked him.
He seemed kind.
We talked about poetry.
The legal proceedings.
What kind of father he wanted to be.
Our mutual friends.
My life working for his friends.
On and on.
He always told me he was so fascinated with how I made my own rules, he called me Banksy.
I told my friends about him and his semi-unclear status. He was laying down all the same lines from "Waiting to Exhale." It was the classic theme of a marriage reduced to roommate status and awaiting the right time for her to make her exit. She couldn't leave yet, because of social pressure...but she was on her way out. 6 months of sleeping apart.
I should have been smarter. I should have known. I did, in a way, I think... but we always want to believe what we need to believe to get what we think we want. I thought I wanted to know him better. My friends said things like: "If he is married and IN his marriage how is he texting you night after night till the wee hours of the morning." "If she told him she doesn't want to be married to him you aren't doing anything wrong." I had no way of knowing that one friend who supported my choice to move forward despite my ambivalence was a mistress herself. Confirmation bias is a powerful thing. I am as guilty as she, she is as guilty as me. Another friend advised: "you are only responsible for what you know and your actions." Sometimes we allow people close to us to execute choices based on our encouragement because we need to feel good about our own secret choices. I wrestled back and forth about unanswered questions for a while until prudence exited stage left.
He came over one snowy night, just to talk.
I played Beyonce's visual album.
We talked. (some)
A week or so later his text confirmed what I wrestled with only days before: "I can't do this. I am not the guy who has a mistress."
I responded: "I am not a mistress if you are separated from your wife."
I was a mistress?
I was his exit affair. His wife left him. They separated, just as he said they were in the process of doing. How much of it was because of me I'll never know. He got to be the good guy who had a wife who left him, despite how much he appeared to care for her. He needed a new lens for people to see the narrative. He needed to shift power.
I was Banksy for him. I was both hero and villain.