On an ordinary January afternoon, a disturbing revelation about his wife hurls one man into a maelstrom of public humiliation and heartbreak, and eventually on a spree of run-ins with lawyers, judges, therapists, and law enforcement. Land of July tells the true story of a teacher/student sex scandal that not only shocked an entire school and small suburban community, but made national news. It’s a story filled with countless anecdotes about marriage, trust, infidelity, grief, and the desperate search for hope and family in the face of ruin. Practically ripped from the daily headlines, Land of July is as salacious as it is sobering. At its best, it’s a cautionary tale that might just inspire an awakening of morality; at its worst, it’s one man’s tumultuous journey to hell…and possibly back.
As the days wore on, conversations between Allison and I were starting to become redundant. She continued to plead her contrition, stating how she loved me and our family and our life together and how she would do anything to make amends. It was a lapse in judgment, she said, and she never meant to deliberately hurt me or our children. She bawled and begged and worked tirelessly to make me see how she was human and had simply lost herself for a bit, but had to hit rock bottom to once again be found.
“You’ve been found for the same reason anyone claims they’re found,” I said. “Because you got caught. That’s all. You would’ve kept it going. Your little threesome. You would’ve taken it to the next level. Upped the ante. Using my imagination over what exactly that means sickens me.”
“No,” she protested, “I swear. I swear I love you. I never meant to hurt you or the kids. I just got caught up in something these past months.”
I pointed out what we had both known before her secrets were revealed: that what she had been caught up in, vanity, shallowness, self-absorption, technology, was more or less the bane of her existence for years, not months.
“I tried to save you from yourself,” I said.
“I did. I tried to save you from yourself.”
“I know you did.”
“I don’t care how that sounds, either: arrogant or preachy or condescending. Because it’s true. I did. I tried to save you from yourself.”
It was true. I had tried, for years, to be the catalyst for some type of self-awareness on her part. To make her see how her behaviors – the selfishness, the materialism, the narcissism – was affecting our family. More often than not, I was accused of being too judgmental, overly critical, a nag, a control freak. Yet I had control over not one facet of the marriage. The fact of the matter is that this was a woman who listened to not a single word I ever had to say. I would half joke with my father that Allison had turned me into Fredo from The Godfather. Fredo, played by the late John Cazale, is the epitome of a milquetoast – especially where his oversexed flake of a wife is concerned. This is cemented in Part II during the Lake Tahoe party scene where she’s inebriated and falling down on the dance floor. After an unsuccessful attempt at admonishing her, Fredo skulks over to his younger brother, Pacino’s Michael, and says, emasculated and dispirited, “I can’t control ‘er, Mikey.”
The next several days brought with them many questions. Would I be able to force Allison into vacating the house? Should I begin dividing our assets? Reroute my paycheck? Each time I called my attorney’s office, he wasn’t in. I left messages with his secretary, who promised he would call me back. Sometimes he would. Often he would not. When he did, he would tell me to hold tight and that he would soon be in touch.
“Is there anything I should do in the meantime?”
“Keep a journal of what transpires between the two of you,” he said. “And record your conversations.”
“They might prove useful.”
So I got to work on a journal, documenting pivotal talks we had since January 7th. Talks about her indiscretions and her past and our marriage and her mental illness. And I began carrying a small handheld tape recorder around the house. Concealing it in my sweatshirt or pants pocket, I had perfected the act of pressing play at a moment’s notice. But the conversations were redundant and not at all revealing. Mostly they were desperate pleas for me to not leave her. Many were filled with tears and declarations of love. There were even a few pseudo-intellectual stabs at equivocation. Then, on January 19th, at 7:49 p.m., we engaged in a conversation that would prove to be far more salient.
I was holed up in the master bedroom, draped in my comforter, watching a reenactment of the Hoover Dam being constructed, when Allison asked to speak with me. I kept my eyes on the TV and felt around for the tape recorder.
“How are you doing?” she asked.
It was too absurd to even answer.
“Can we talk for a minute?” she said.
I found the proper button and pressed it. Then, with a heavy sigh, I paused the TV and listened to what she had to say. She stated how she was floored that she could make the decision she had made when she loved me and our children. She couldn’t understand it, she said over and over. She acknowledged that I was good to her, good to our children, a good man – not abusive or violent or unstable in any way. I was undeserving of what had happened, she acknowledged.
“It was just a bad decision,” she said.
I was maddened by her continued use of that word: decision.
“Did you say decision?” I said, looking up at her. “As in singular?”
She said nothing. I explained that right then and there she was forbidden from ever referring to this matter as a single act. I pointed out that her actions – the scouting, the preying, the enticing, the molesting – lasted nearly a year. She didn’t argue. Then I asked her to take me through the chronology of events spanning back to the previous spring. She did so, willingly. And lucidly.
She talked about having profound feelings for fourteen-year-old Gabe. How she texted him constantly. Texts mostly of a sexual nature, propositioning Gabe and inquiring about his sexual experiences. I was careful to guide the trajectory of events so she didn’t leave any gaps. Which she did not. She was seamless in her acknowledgments. Her voice and manner were so steady that it was unnerving. She might as well have been reminiscing about some European odyssey she took when she was a college student.
The story then took a detour into her exploits with Zach, victim #2. Her gym buddy. They began talking after Gabe lost interest. She sent Zach nude selfies. He paid her two separate visits to her classroom. She made it very worth his while. And sealed her fate in the process.
“So you see,” I said, “you don’t have the right to call it a mistake or a decision. You made a series of awful decisions over a ten month period. You could have – and should have – stopped yourself on numerous occasions. But you didn’t. And now…”
This ended the conversation. There was nothing left for either of us to say. Defeated, Allison nodded her head and started to walk away. She stopped herself when she was just a foot or two from the door. Then she turned to me and asked if we could share the bed that night. Hurling an awestruck glance into space, I aimed the remote towards the TV and pressed play. When she left the room, I shut the tape recorder off and hid it under the mattress.
Rob Marchese is a local author, musician, and English teacher. He has published short fiction and nonfiction in Mudrock, The Storyteller, Coastal Connecticut, and other various publications. In addition, he has published a novel, Nine Lies. Land of July: A Real Life Scandal of Sex & Social Media at a Connecticut High School, Rob’s latest book, is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and will soon be available at local retail outlets.