Over on Twitter a little while ago, I got into a discussion about the concept of kayfabe – which is actually the impetus of this “in which I married a con man …” series – and as soon as I typed out that Keith was living on both sides of his personal kayfabe, it was a lightning strike moment. Because it was 100% true. I had just never thought of it that way.
Kayfabe is a professional wrestling concept: “the fact or convention of presenting staged performances as genuine or authentic,” per the dictionary. In other words, the audience knows that the story playing in front of them is fake but understands that they are just playing the role of the audience and let it sort of just sweep over them. It becomes real until the play is over and then you go on with your life. Well, at least you’re supposed to; people can be very gullible. But there’s an understood respect there, both for the performers and those who watch them. It’s just big, dumb fun, a la The Fast and the Furious franchise, which I unironically adore and own.
But what happens when reality gets blurred?
Well, you get my marriage. Or the current iteration of the Republican party, but that’s not what I’m talking about today. Nope, I’m just talking about a singular terrible person.
For you see, my ex-husband lied. From our first date until the moment I realized I legit wanted a divorce, Keith lied to me. There was an element of truth to his stories; they were all rooted in actual experiences, but unfortunately for him, Keith is also a narcissist with a low self-esteem and a very quick temper. He overreacted to things in his past, and instead of recognizing that these were overreactions, he created embellishments that could justify his responses. For example, one story he told me was that his ex-girlfriend died in his arms after getting t-boned at a dangerous intersection. He saw it happen, and he just ‘roided out, ripping the car door open and pulling her out of the rubble. In reality, the girl did die in a car accident at a dangerous intersection, but it was a year after they’d broken up and he heard about it from a friend of a friend. But that didn’t seem to garner enough sympathy or justify his sadness at her death, so he created a story around himself.
And he just kept doing that. With everything. And he couldn’t keep up with all the stories that he’d manufactured, so he started to internalize them. They became the reality, and without really trying, he created this mythology about himself that he had to defend. To some degree, he had to make sure no one questioned that, so he had to break people down in order to make sure they wouldn’t start to dig into his stories, and I was one of those people. There are plenty of reasons why he wanted to keep me under his control, and trust me, I will get into them in this series, but I truly think this was the main reason. If he admitted that his entire life was just elaborate kayfabe, what would happen? Well, ultimately, it caused his mental breakdown.
I went into this a bit when I was discussing the Last Podcast on the Left‘s first episode about Aleister Crowley on Twitter, but there’s just so much to it that I really do need to expand. I haven’t talked about it much over the last six years now, mainly out of respect for Keith’s mental health, but quite frankly, I’m done protecting him. The culmination of the destruction of his elaborate web of lies was one of the most terrifying experiences I have ever gone through, and I actually caught on fire once. Some backstory is important to understanding how we got to him trying to commit suicide by walking in front of a moving train: he was obsessed with the Golden Dawn, the Bornless Ritual, Enochian magick, etc., and got involved with others who followed similar religious/spiritual paths through WhatsApp. He was also, unbeknownst to me, heavily drinking, which I think played more of a role in his deterioration, but there are plenty of people who disagree with me on that. He’d specifically set up a room in our house for his rituals; I didn’t really enter that room often, partially because I wasn’t really sure what he did in there. But he would talk with the others about his rituals, explaining what he was trying to do and asking for advice on further magickal studies.
Now, I am very open-minded spiritually. I was raised Christian and, although I identify very strongly with Christ, I incorporate a lot of other spiritual practices and beliefs that are considered pagan by the church, so his practices weren’t something I judged. But they did feel … off. To this day, I still can’t really explain what that means, but as he progressed, his behavior got more and more volatile and aggressive, which again, I attribute more to his alcohol abuse and his spiraling psyche than to anything else.
Eventually, as was par for the course with Keith, a rift developed between him and his magician friends, and he started to fight back, choosing to isolate one vulnerable girl suffering from an addiction to Ritalin as the key to turning the others against his main combatant, a guy who’s name I cannot even remember. Somehow, all of this triggered a break. One morning, I woke up to go to work and found Keith on the couch, belligerently complaining that his nemesis and his lackeys were “fucking with him” and kept pushing him off the couch. I saw several cans of shitty beer on the floor, something I’d never seen before, and asked him if he was drunk. He didn’t deny it but tried to change the subject, and I, in a rare moment of gumption, told him that I never wanted to wake up to this again. I then left for work, and for a couple of days, things were fine. They weren’t great, especially now in hindsight, but they were headed back into the realm of normal. For us, at least.
Then it’s almost like something just snapped. He started rambling in our bathroom, sitting on a box he’d dragged in there, and then … well, it’s all so blurry, even now. He tried to convince me that I was being spiritually raped by one of the magicians, that they had somehow managed to hold his spirit in a limbo like he was on meat hooks, that they were killing him. That he wanted to die. This went on for quite some time, and I was just sitting in our bedroom, scared shitless because had no idea what was going on. His fear switched to laughing, and he walked up and down the hallway, joking with the voices in his head. Eventually, he revealed to me that they could kill him at any time, but that they’d given him another chance to … do something, I’m still not clear on what exactly. To prove that he wasn’t a threat? Somewhere in his “explanation” of what had actually just happened, the confessions just started coming. That’s when I found out that I had married a habitual liar.
But like I said above, it went deeper than just fooling people. As a narcissist, Keith had an obsession with feeling important, with feeling as if he had a destiny that people kept stealing from him because they were intimidated by the greatness they saw in him. He could not hold a job for very long, and I’m fairly certain he was fired from a few that he’d said he had just decided to leave. Either that or he quit because he couldn’t connive and gaslight them they way he had me, so he dismissed them as being beneath him, unworthy of his gargantuan talents. If he couldn’t do that, he would find gullible patsies, like me, to pump him full of the acceptance he needed and couldn’t give himself.
With a narcissist, they have to believe their own hype or else the con doesn’t work as well, and while they have to be very selective in who they allow to get close regardless, it gives them that extra edge of believability. In essence, they use a glamour on themselves. Their lives are perpetual kayfabe, and the second that veil is lifted, everything goes to shit. They lose their hold on their prey, sometimes suddenly and sometimes gradually (usually a bit of both, honestly), and then they scramble to get back at least a vestige of what once was, the time before the curtain was torn down. They want the kayfabe to be real.
Keith told me that he was a spider, that all he wanted to do was drain me of whatever he could take, and the only thing that could stop it was walking in front of a train. A bit dramatic, now that I think about it, and pretty on brand for his usual performance standards, but at the time, I had been overwhelmed by everything that had happened the night before. After a lot of talking and driving around Columbia, SC, I convinced him to admit himself into a hospital. Over the next several days, he was allowed to call me once, and it was as (at the time) heartbreaking to hear him utter nonsense. He believed a dark magician had gone back in time to make sure we would have our house and car because they came preinstalled with interior cameras that would record all of the evils he committed. All he had to do was give the greenlight, and the entire world would know what a shit he was. I would be financially secure, apparently, as everyone would feel sorry for me and want to take care of me. A day or so after this conversation, I got a call from the hospital, saying he was being discharged.
It’s a funny thing to find out that the reason your now-ex-husband mentally snapped because he was detoxing from alcohol abuse, especially when he had convinced you that it was the work of a bunch of people in South Africa that didn’t like him. Looking back now, I see all the signs; slightly yellow sclera of the eyes, slurred speech, extreme and irrational mood swings, sleeping out of our bedroom at night, random beer cans I’d find that looked newer than what the old owner of the house could have left behind. For the first time in five years, I saw the man I had married, standing in front of me, and did not recognize what I saw. He looked a bit broken, worn out, which makes sense. That veneer had peeled back, and no matter how much he would try over the next several months, it would never stick the same way again. I left him six months later.
To this day, part of me thinks that the events of the night he went crazy were just another part of his kayfabe, a last ditch effort to prevent me from learning the truth. Or was it actual spiritual warfare, where I could have been a casualty? I can never be truly sure there. The man is a seasoned storyteller, after all, even to some degree convincing himself of their truth.