Svengali wears a cowboy hat

Something happens on the inside when you know you’re walking on shaky ground but don’t necessarily have to be. It’s that lump in your throat and the heat that surfaces on your chest when you lie to yourself and proceed in a relationship that is screaming “caution”. Nothing about the guy is transparent or quantifiable because his actions are so hap-hazard and mysterious, yet your curiosity is piqued even though his self-assertion drips with arrogance that seems unmerited. There is no proof of his professions except a cowboy hat that brands his facade and plenty of stories claiming accomplishments of business success worth millions; all the while you gather data of his shady work ethic as he blames every relationship for his deals “going sour”. Then it hits you, deja-vu of that dream you had a few nights ago when you woke up in a sweat stifled by fear. You gulp as the same cot you sat on in the corner of a damp room, watching spiders crawl in their webs along the ceiling, becomes the reality of your dream unfolding. Are you making too much of the similarities, the warnings, that still small voice longing to deter you from love entangled in a web of lies? Not if your dealing with a Svengali.

Anytime we come across that person who mesmerizes us with his whit and charm while offering us a back-handed compliment so we feel small and dismissed, we have run straight into the ego of a Svengali personality. Call it narcissistic, sociopathic, hypnotic or pathological, the preface is all the same; a person who believes his own lies while lacking empathy when he blames others for his actions. One who consciously controls his environment through manipulation of those closest to him because he is subconsciously afraid of deep connection, and suffers from his own web of lies that link him to death of a once captured dream. His ensnared prize is only profitable to him as long as her will is submissive while remaining stuck. This strategic pattern is woven through the character of Svengali in the 1894 novel titled “Trilby” where he hypnotized a young girl and brought her acclaim for a singing career. The problem with her gift of song, was that he exploited it for sheer control of her being, leaving her without a voice unless he was present.

I unfortunately, but fortunately, know what it’s like to be rendered speechless through the presence of a man who usurped my ability to dream at night while stifling my visions during the day. When I tell you, I just walked away unscathed from my temporary entanglement with insanity, I’m grossly down-playing my time investment with the Svengali of my life. That dream about the spiders spinning webs of lies as I sat on a cot looking at them above me, was prophetic and I knew it. Sweat was pouring out of my armpits as the guy I was interested in asked me if I was okay because I looked like I had seen a ghost. How was I supposed to respond, “no, I’m good, just sitting under a tangible warning God gave me last week through a dream that obviously is about my getting involved with you?” I politely changed subjects and hoped to steal a moment to think through and tame the fear that was rushing through my veins. Unlike the hypnotist in the timeless story, my Svengali stole my voice when he was present.

I met him in the most peculiar of ways which is why I threw all caution to the wind and hoped that Holy Spirit was leading me. I was paying for my gas inside the filling station and noticed a statuesque black man wearing a cowboy hat in the next line over. When I realized he was driving a truck advertising his business, I ran over with a card to seek employment. Any kind of work in the home beautification field was far better than the waitress job I held, but my approach must have seemed a bit desperate because he called a day later offering me a cleaning position. I was good for that, after all I owned a cleaning business for years and championed my spontaneity for another chance of entrepreneurial experience in the South.  I started off strong, coming in a few hours daily to his shop which was in the basement of his ex-wife’s home. “Technically, I still own it.” he explained as we got to know each other working side by side among sawdust and dis-organized empty paint cans.

His wood-working was a farmhouse style and his mind was brilliant. He and I were very similar, a jack-of-all-trades type. He spoke of corporate investment, software enterprises, traveling, speaking, teaching and turning down a career in the Marines because he was a free spirit. I joked about my, “accomplishing more in my 43 years than most people could dream about in a lifetime,” and started to share of my dreams to counsel children and one day open up a boarding school for them. I had only been in the Atlanta area for 7 months and was till burnt out after investing wasted energy to help education while in Savannah for the previous 4 years. I told him stories of my therapy sessions with my black students in the “hood” and the “grandma types” of the AME churches when I was the only white chic to cross socio-economic and racial lines in the dirty South. We connected and from what he told me, we were pursuing the same paths toward God through housing kids on a ranch one day.

Two weeks after my start of the job, I returned north to visit the friends I had made in ministry school while attending a healing conference with them. This was a one stop shop for me; seeing my family in Maryland, friends in Pennsylvania and a college roomate in New York. The whole trip was a bust, one of the worst I had ever experienced. Not only did I build up expectations in my mind for reunited friendships that never came to pass, the ones that were familiar fell apart and I was literally left behind in a city as a long-standing friendship severed. The one constant throughout my whole trip however, was my thoughts about my new found boss and how intriguing I found him to be.

There was this gentle way about him that complimented his thinking process. It appeared that mis-haps didn’t stunt him at all, in fact, he commonly had a plan B when construction went arry. So when I came back to Georgia and found him in the country on a piece of land perfect for an orphanage or boarding school one day, his entrepreneurial slant lured me into his world all the more. He hugged me when I pulled up onto the new property and said that he had missed me. There was no more ex-wife upstairs and he had sectioned off sleeping quarters in his new shop to live there debt free. I decided I was all in, Daddy God had opened my eyes to someone willing to pursue faith with new found fervor for a second chance in life, an embarkment I had longed to embrace. Smelling the wood that reminded me of my grandpas shed and the only safe memories I had as a child, was stabilizing. I decided to ward off trips back home for a year so I could settle into my new atmosphere. I was smiling at every chance to come into work at the farm and it was mostly because of him.

The drive was extensive, a full 50 minutes in comparison to the previous basement location where a five minute car ride added to my fervor for close proximity. Subtly I noticed that he was re-constructing the time I was there. I’d go all that way just to do something remedial for two hours and then be released of my duties. I’m not sure why he couldn’t remember my availability but he always seemed to need me when I wasn’t available. Deep inside I felt expendable and that my help, although appreciated, really didn’t amount that much to him. I know he liked that I was pursuing private practice as a pastoral counselor and he would seek answers to questions about the Bible in a way that seemed childlike. It was both honoring and patronizing as I detected he had more important things to do than entertain a white woman with beliefs he was indifferent toward.

The subject of race was always at the forefront of his conversations which almost felt like I was being talked down to. Since I had first hand knowledge of black culture due to working in the cities of Baltimore and Savannah, I accepted that his lingo would change in front of me, but I still didn’t like it. I have always shown my feelings on my sleeve so I took it personally when he hid expression from me while being different toward his workers. He would educate me about his people and how 1865 was when they first realized a year of freedom had passed before they took it. Somehow his inflection when giving an opinion would make me question why he thought I would comply with his stance, especially if negative references to “white men” were stated. Because I fundamentally didn’t get worked up over politics, or honor the media in ways that he did, it just seemed easier to let him rant while I remained neutral. What I didn’t understand was that my seeming accepting, set the standard of expectation for it’s continuance unless I wanted to be deemed difficult.

When I reminded him one day of my need to scoot to my waitress job, he mentioned having time to come in that evening. Needless to say I was excited. That was Nov.7th.  Instead of him driving an hour back home to sleep in cold conditions, I offered him a place on my couch since he had finished eating so late. Once I got off of my shift he got comfortable at my place while I changed.  While putting sheets on the sofa he continued to tell me tales of his respect and adoration for his ex-wife and how being single allowed their friendship to flourish.  I related my similar experience with my ex-husband and how I was proud of us all for choosing the high road.  However, in this stage of his game, I was being lured into sticky synonymous stories very strategically.  As I let my guard down and divulged secrets of my past failed marriage over a glass of wine, his abstaining from the alcohol faltered, a deliberate move since he prided himself on not drinking normally.  It seemed I had gotten him to loosen up when in reality I was playing into his myriad of contradictive personality traits.   

Evidently he used that night as his jumping off point to re-direct my interaction in his time and space.  It was clear that he wanted a romantic bond but without any attachment until I proved submissive.  He needed to control all aspects of our conversation and schedule, thereby conditioning my responses to his actions.  He deemed our dates as being occasions that worked around his entrepreneurial lifestyle, which was code for “at his convenience”.  If I questioned his whereabouts when not able to get in touch with him or responded with my own opinion he would ignore and dismiss, or go into an hour lecture just to deflect from the point I was trying to make.  He was a master at countering which left me tongue tied, feeling powerless and eventually depressed.  This magnitude of maladaptive behavior screamed childhood pain and coping mechanisms loud and clear, but because of my counseling such adults, I sensed that he was beyond my ability to rehabilitate.

That is when the tables started to turn.  He negated his fatherless upbringing as being a problem and failed to accept that his detachment from emotion slipped him into a tirade of fantasy that has a description found in many disorders of the DSM-V.  My intellect was the object of his sharp tongue because it challenged his existence.  He knew no more about integrity than he did work ethic yet commonly stated how he “had a license to print money”.  It was that slogan that almost caught me in a fury of laughing out loud in his face because he couldn’t even pay his employees and I footed the bill for every celebratory date outside of Waffle House. 

Once I was placed on sabbatical from working in his shop, he siphoned my emotions into a downward spiral toward a murky pit.  His spider legs were moving rapidly to cover his tracks as I slowed my momentum once I discovered an extra set of footprints.  My heart didn’t skip a beat when I learned of a former lover who got wind of me and blew up my phone just to tell me she and him were still an item.  She and I conversed just after I had believed his latest appeasement about choosing me as a life partner.  I was able to mentally recall the misaligned texts over Thanksgiving and the grave miscommunication as I was trying hard behind the scenes to act as if I was calm, cool and collected.  The long nights without him near had pressed upon my spirit that Daddy God loved me far deeper and wanted to know why I had settled?  Sleepless nights and tears of depression filled my days as he made demands through texts for me to prove my devotion as he claimed to be visiting family while in her arms only a few miles down the road. 

Shortly after Thanksgiving I started seeing the numbers 1222 and 222 everywhere; gas prices, candy bar prices, times on the clock, on my receipts and even miles run on the treadmill.  It was as if the even numbers had a necessary excitement by being placed in triplets.  So I made a meme after looking up scriptures with that sequence of numbers and stumbled upon the books of Job and Daniel which stated the promise of light exposing darkness. I even wrote both of the scriptures on my mirror in my bathroom and found myself memorizing them for comfort every time I suspected the fool I was dating was lying to me.  I sent the meme to him after midnight on Dec. 22 because I hadn’t heard from him all day.  I had a sneaky suspicion that he wasn’t alone since he had promised to always call and say goodnight.  My spirit however, was prophetically aligning with truth for I didn’t even consciously realize that the date of the text was 12/22 until the next morning.

Boy had I been played.  Or had I? 

Christmas was a bust.  He didn’t have a sense of style so when he showed up disheveled with a box of cheap chocolates and his cowboy hat raising the height of his demeanor, all I felt was disgust.  I was in the business of dreams and God was recalling that fact to my memory.  I couldn’t shut my eyes at night without having some semblance of his actions to the spiders I saw feasting on the drop ceiling months before.  I was making excuses for his hypnotic bad behavior and finger pointing in my face because I was falling into his trap of deception.  I looked forward to my nights away from him and lost the energy to care about who he was with because sleuthing sapped my strength.  Nothing he did or said added up and my fear of being stuck in a lie was starting to manifest in my daily routine.  Then I had the final dream of him looking in my hand-held mirror and mocking the scripture of Daniel 2:22.  He was smirking with that notorious narc grin and flaunting himself in front of me.  I woke up in a sweaty panic to humbly repent before the Lord for getting entangled in a web of lies.

Then I knew.  I had to seek a way out of this svengali delusion.  “Dear God, if you can spare further entanglement with this liar who has only spun a web of distraction from the call on my life, please use your light to illuminate all the dark places that have held me captive.  And if he cancels our date tonight I will trust that you have ended the relationship.  I surrender this whole sticky situation to your truth.”  This was on February 22, a confirmation of 2/22.  He texted me at 12:22 to break our date.  I was flooded with the reality that my Lord and Savior just whisked me out of a devilish relationship that I knew was wrong from the beginning.

The thing about dates on the calendar is that you can look at a span of time and it seems like it flies by. When you revisit each day with all of its emotion, the numbers hold weight with consequence. It could be the longest or shortest day depending on the significance of that number and how many tears you cried or hours you wasted on someone who purposely pushed you out of his mind to justify bad behavior.  Whether it’s numbers in scripture, digits on a time clock or displayed out in a sequential space of time, they can’t be as manipulated like people.  Numbers add up and these significant happenings brought me back to that original check in my spirit that told me something wasn’t adding up.  I counted back the days of my interaction with this svengali and found that nothing was wasted, for God owns all time, but that my lesson learned will be consistent with moving forward and never making up for lost time because that too, led me into the light that turned me from darkness.

 

 

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