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February 29, 2012

Sleeping With the Enemy

How Joy Lynn Bruce learned the shocking truth about her husband — and her marriage. As told to Sandy M. Fernandez

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On Tuesday, October 6, 2009, I spent the day calling my husband's cell phone. Howard and I had been married six years and owned a business together in Pueblo, Colorado. We normally talked three or four times a day, and text-messaged even more: Howard often checked in to see how I was doing. It was unusual — and not a good sign, I thought — that he wasn't picking up.

By the time 5 p.m. rolled around, I just knew something was wrong, and I was worried enough to call Robert, Howard's teenage son from his first marriage, to ask him if he knew where his father was.

"I can't talk right now. I'm with the police," he said hurriedly. "They're accusing my dad of something."

"What?!" I asked, flabbergasted. I could hear radios and voices in the background.

"Trying to kill somebody," Robert said. "I gotta go." And he hung up.

Oh, my God, I thought. It's true. Howard is the Ether Man.

I'd met Robert Howard Bruce in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in June 2001, when I was 27 and recently divorced from the father of my two preschool-age sons. I was getting by managing my sister's business towing and auctioning off repossessed cars, trying to figure out what was next in my life. I hadn't wanted to go out that night, but my two childhood best friends refused to let me sit home and mope. When they picked me up from my house to take me to a local bar, I couldn't even be bothered to change out of my baggy shorts and T-shirt. But once we got there, a tall Ben Affleck look-alike kept turning and smiling at me. A mutual acquaintance introduced us; she'd worked with him at Intel, where he was a technician. By the end of the evening, we'd exchanged numbers.

Howard was my Prince Charming at first. He was 12 years older, but he was in great shape and loved going out. He was generous, and I was a struggling single mom: When he took me on a romantic weekend trip to San Antonio, the weather was hotter than I'd packed for, so he bought me a whole new wardrobe. And when I tagged along on one of his business trips to California and he had to leave me behind for a day of meetings, he rented a car, gave me $200, and said, "There's the mall. Go shopping." I'd been the breadwinner and caretaker for my kids for so long that I had a hard time accepting his support at first. But pretty soon, it felt like a weight had been lifted. I loved being able to relax and not worry about money for once.

Like me, Howard was divorced and was super-involved with his three kids. Almost immediately after we met, he told me he was about to move to Pueblo, about two hours from where I lived, because his ex-wife was there and he didn't want to miss out on his kids' lives. "So don't fall in love with me, because I'm moving," he said. I laughed, and told him the last thing I wanted so soon after my divorce was another relationship. Maybe he saw that as a challenge. After he moved, he drove back every other weekend to see me. Nine months after we met, he got down on one knee, tears in his eyes, and asked me to marry him.

But I didn't say yes; something held me back. Maybe it was his extravagance with money, or the fact that the more time we spent together, the more often I heard him talking about other women in a cold, even harsh, manner. He often commented on how they were dressed, calling any girl in shorts or tight jeans a slut. "They sleep with anything and everything, especially the college girls," he'd say. "Howard, you have a daughter!" I remember exploding in anger once. "Would you want some man talking about her like that?" There was another issue: My mother didn't like him. Her intuitions about people were usually right, and when she told me, just a month into our relationship — before she'd even met him — that she'd had a terrible dream that I'd married Howard and moved far away, it only contributed to my lingering sense of unease.

Howard persisted, though, and promised that if we got married and I moved to Pueblo with him, he'd pay for me to return to school to become a teacher, a dream I'd always thought was out of reach. I finally accepted his proposal, and we tied the knot in September 2003, next to a waterfall on Hawaii's Big Island.

When we got back, I remained in Albuquerque so my kids could finish the school year before we moved. One day, a friend told me she'd spotted Howard at the local Pueblo country bar the night before. "It was College Night," she said. "They don't even serve alcohol." Although our relationship had been largely long-distance, until that moment, I'd never thought he might be doing something behind my back. Now my heart dropped. Could he be cheating on me? When I confronted him about it, he said he'd been having trouble falling asleep that night and had just gone out for a bit. I was upset, but his explanation seemed just plausible enough, so I let it go after a few days.

When I finally moved with my kids to Pueblo in 2004, things turned tense. Howard became controlling — and cheap. My hair dryer broke, and he refused to replace it. When I wanted makeup, he said no — his new job had him traveling 14 days at a time, so I wouldn't have any need to get all dolled up while he was gone, he said. He was strict with my sons, who weren't used to it, even spanking my 4-year-old against my wishes after a quarrel with one of Howard's sons. When I brought up going back to school, he always had a reason why I needed to wait. I alternated between fury at him and fury at myself.


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