This week many cheered the implosion of Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City. It felt like a symbolic end to the Trump era—although it came only a few days after Republicans in the Senate criminally gave him a pass in his second impeachment trial, illustrating how much power he still holds over them.
The impending death of American democracy notwithstanding, I got a little extra catharsis out of the explosion. To me it felt like retroactive validation for a choice I made nearly three decades ago.
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In the summer of 1992, a month before I left my first marriage, my then-husband and I spent a weekend at a condo his parents owned on the Atlantic City boardwalk, in between the Tropicana and Trump Plaza. It was a last-ditch effort to see if we could repair our relationship, and it did not go well. I’d wanted to get away alone together anywhere but there. I hated “A.C.” as my husband and his family called it, as much as I hated Las Vegas. We spent entirely too much time in both cities because my father-in-law was a high roller, and because he and my husband attended many trade shows in those places.
Twenty-nine years later I can’t recall how my ex rationalized choosing Atlantic City for our weekend getaway over any of the many places I suggested instead. But I know I agreed to go on one condition: we wouldn’t once enter a casino.
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I hate everything about casinos—the fake theme park vibe, the slot machine sounds, the washed up entertainers, the lack of clocks and windows and natural light, the canned air, cocktail waitresses’ fake smiles, the way men ogle them. Most depressing of all are the people there desperately trying to make back money they recently lost, or make their rent, on a lucky hand or roll of the dice.
My ex agreed: no casinos that weekend. Just walking on the boardwalk, swimming in the pool, eating out—and attempting to talk about why we could no longer agree on even the color of the sky.
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When our marriage ended I had very particular blow-by-blow notions about what had gone wrong, but my perspective on most of it has changed. Sure, our specific conflicts contributed. But the bottom line is we had those conflicts because we were a complete mismatch, and we had no idea how to navigate them because we were much too young. We’d made the mistake of choosing each other before we had any idea of who we each were. We’d met at 19 (me) and 20 (him), and married at 23 and 24. Our frontal lobes weren’t even yet fully formed!
One factor I realize I was right about, though, was how much my ex was influenced by his father, and the degree to which his dad felt competitive with me, always needing to test his son’s loyalty in ways that would, er, trump me and my role as my ex’s primary partner. He would constantly triangulate, asking my ex to do things he knew would bother me. The two of them were hopelessly codependent. I’m using psychobabble, but I learned it from him; he was in a Codependent No More support group, which he talked about incessantly. He felt so strongly about that book that his business repped assorted related licensed products, including Codependent No More™ toilet paper.
That toilet paper was in the guest bathroom of my in-laws’ house, along with the Serenity Prayer, framed next to the medicine cabinet. My father-in-law knew exactly what he was doing, but he couldn’t seem to stop himself.
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One way or another, though, we were doomed, as was our reconciliation weekend before it even started. The drive down to Atlantic City was tense, filled with awkward silences. If you looked closely enough, you could probably see the wheels spinning in our heads, each of us teeing up our arguments so we’d have them at the ready.
Shortly after we got down there, my ex disappeared for the first of several times. “I’ll be right back,” he said. For a second I imagined he was going to get flowers or something, but no. He returned with no explanation.
Next, he slipped away from our restaurant table at dinner. “I’ll be right back,” he said again.
“Where are you going?” I asked.
“I’ve got to find a pay phone. It’s a business call.” (There were no cell phones yet in 1992.)
He was gone for half-an-hour. When he returned, he had an envelope stuffed with cash. First he put it down on the table, but when he saw me noticing it with my mouth agape, he tried jamming it in his breast pocket.
“What the fuck is that?” I asked.
He came clean: his father had offered to let us use the condo for the weekend in exchange for my ex playing craps for him—at Trump Plaza. My ex and his dad were Democrats, but as gamblers and business people, they were enamored of Donald Trump. They loved his bravado, his glitz, his casinos.
My ex’s admission made me feel completely undermined. I knew in that moment that I would never be able to have any real power in that relationship.
After he spoke, I just sat there, smoldering. I couldn’t find words to respond with.
“I have to go back one more time, either after dinner, or tomorrow” he said. “You’re welcome to come with me, or you can wait in the apartment.”
I’m not sure why I chose to go with him when avoiding casinos had been my one stipulation for the weekend. Maybe I felt the need to martyr myself as a way to score points in the war that was escalating between us. Maybe I needed to put myself, one last time, in a place I hated so I would remember just how much I hated it—this place my ex and his father loved. Maybe it was more fuel for the fire I was building as a way to blow up a life that felt wronger by the day.
If I could have detonated Trump Plaza that night, I would have. I’m glad someone else eventually got around to it. 🧨