The Noel Stranger
You might be wondering why I would let you, a complete stranger, read parts of my diary. Maybe it’s the “bus-rider syndrome,” in which people, for unknown reasons, share with total strangers the most intimate details of their lives. Maybe, but I think it’s simpler than that. I think our desire to be understood is stronger than our fear of exposure.
—Maggie Walther’s Diary
How did I get here?
I once heard someone describe her life as a car with four flat tires. I would be happy with that. If my life were a metaphorical car, it would be in much worse shape—wheels stolen, windshield smashed, and dirt poured into its gas tank. I’d say that the demolition of my life happened in a matter of months, but that’s not really true. It had been happening for the last three years of my marriage. I was just oblivious.
You probably read about the horror of my life in the newspaper or somewhere online. It’s one of those tragic stories that people love to wring their hands over and
feign sympathy about as they lustfully share the sordid details—like describing a car accident they witnessed.
Before the truth popped out like a festering pustule (excuse the gross simile, it just seems fitting), my life seemed idyllic on the surface. I own a thriving—and exhausting—catering company called Just Desserts. (We do more than desserts. The woman I inherited the business from started by baking birthday and wedding cakes, and the name stuck.)
My husband of nine years, Clive, whom, by the way, I was madly in love with, was a partner in a prominent Salt Lake City law firm and a city councilman going on almost four years. I went through the whole campaign thing with him twice, speaking to women’s groups, holding babies, the whole shebang. It wasn’t really my thing, I’ve always been more of an introvert, but it was his and I loved him and believed in supporting my husband. Unlike me, Clive was a natural at public life. Everyone loved him. He had a way of making you feel like you were the most important person in the room. I think that’s what initially drew my heart to him—the way he made me feel seen.
Less than a year ago, Clive’s name had been placed on the short list of potential Salt Lake City mayoral candidates for next year’s election. One newspaper poll even showed him leading, and lobbyists and politicos began circling him like bees at a picnic. At least they were. No one’s calling now. That ship didn’t sail, it sunk. Just like our marriage.
I’ve learned that the things that derail our lives are
usually the things that blindside us when we’re worrying about something else—like stressing over being late to a hair appointment and then, on the way there, getting T-boned by a garbage truck running a red light.
My garbage truck came via a phone call at nine o’clock on a Tuesday morning. Clive was out of town. I had just gotten home from a Pilates class and was getting ready for work when the phone rang. The caller ID said Deseret News, the local newspaper. I assumed the call had something to do with our subscription or my catering business, as the paper would call every now and then for a food article. Last Halloween they had me do a bit on “Cooking for Ghouls,” sharing my favorite chili and breadstick recipe.
I picked up the phone. “Hello?”
“I’m Karl Fahver, the political editor for the Deseret News. I’m calling to see if you’d like to comment on your husband’s arrest this morning.”
My heart stopped. “What are you talking about?”
“You didn’t know that your husband was arrested this morning?”
“My husband’s away on a business trip. I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“I’m sorry, I assumed you knew. Your husband was arrested for bigamy.”
“Bigamy? As in, more than one wife?”
My mind spun like that beach-ball-looking thing on your computer when you’re waiting for something to happen. Or maybe I was just in shock. “That’s ridiculous. I’m his only wife. Are you sure you have the right person?”
The reporter hesitated. When he spoke again, there was a hint of sympathy in his voice. “According to the police report, your husband has a second family in Colorado.”
Just then my call waiting beeped. It was Clive. “My husband’s on the other line. I need to get this . . .”
I hung up, bringing up Clive’s call. “Is it true?” I asked.
Clive didn’t answer.
“Clive . . .”
“I’m sorry, Maggie. I wanted you to hear it from me.”
“You wanted me to hear from you that you have another wife?” I started crying. “How could you do this?!”
“What do you want me to say, Maggie?”
“Say it’s not true! Say, ‘I’d never do this to the woman who supported me through everything.’ How about, ‘I’d never do this to you because I love you’?” There was another long pause. I couldn’t stop crying. Finally, I said, “Say something, please.”
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I’ve got to go.” He hung up.
I collapsed on the floor and sobbed.
According to the article in the afternoon’s paper, my husband had another wife and two children in Thornton, Colorado. I saw a picture of the other woman. She was
short, with a round face, a tattoo of a rose on her shoulder, and badly dyed blond hair.
After the story went viral, a malicious site popped up showing a picture of me next to the “other wife” and asking people to vote which one was hotter. There were more than twelve thousand votes. I won, 87 percent to 13 percent. I’m sorry I know that. It should have at least preserved my ego a little, but it only made me angrier. Clive could at least have had the decency to cheat on me with a swimsuit model—someone no one would really expect a normal woman to compete with. One that would have people saying, “I can see him doing that,” instead of “His wife must have been awful to live with.”
At the moment, Clive’s out on bail, living with his parents in Heber, Utah. I doubt with his connections that he’ll ever see the inside of a cell—unless he ends up with a judge he’s crossed somewhere back—but either way, I’m feeling like I’m under house arrest, afraid to go out in public, even to shop for groceries. I’m afraid to see strangers gape at me.
The other day I went to the nearby food mart to pick up something to eat when I noticed a woman following me. At first I told myself that I was imagining things, until she followed me across seven rows at the supermarket, videoing me with her phone.
This too will pass, right? I know that pretty much all news is temporary. Scandals are like waves that crash on the beach, then quietly retreat in foam, but when it’s about you, it seems like there is no other news. It feels like every
spotlight is on you as the public watches from the gallery like voyeurs, their faces darkened and entertained by the drama of your life.
Obviously, I’ve thought this over too much. The thing is, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I’m just compulsive enough that I suppose I would have continued down my crazy spiral until I self-destructed or until something else unexpected turned up. Fortunately, it did. Actually, someone. A stranger. And he came at Christmas.