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(The salacious billboard in Times Square)

Last week when I was in New York City, I stayed in a hotel near Times Square. One of my favorite things about Times Square are the enormous, flashing and colorful billboards.  You can stand in the middle of the square and experience a surround sound of billboards.

One particular billboard stood out from all the rest.  It wasn't promoting a product, but a couple.  Filling most of the billboard was the image of an attractive and happy looking couple.  I assumed it was some romantic man proclaiming his love for his partner and wanting to spend some big bucks to share his joy with the world.

I was wrong.  Turning on the local news in my hotel room, I learned the facts.  Apparently, the woman in the billboard had been a woman scorned and this billboard was part of her revenge.  The revenge was directed at her lover of eight years who had left her to go back to his wife.

YaVaughnie Wilkins, the woman scorned and devastated because she claims she didn't know that the love of her life, highly visible and prominent Charles Phillips, current President of the software giant Oracle, was married.  (Had this woman never heard of the Internet or the notion of a doing a Google search?  Apparently not.)  While Wilkins remained in ignorant bliss and Charles was promising her happily ever after, thoughts of his wife and family wouldn't go away.  After eight and a half years, he left his girlfriend and went back home, back to his wife and children. He underestimated the disappointment of his mistress, who he hoped would disappear into the sunset.

She didn't.  And the billboard in Times Square was only the first of five billboards placed in cities like Atlanta and San Francisco.  Revenge doesn't come cheaply and Wilkins's revenge cost her close to $250,000 and a permanent big X on her chest warning any potential suitor that he better not have any wives, children or other lovers hidden in any closets. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.

But revenge is not limited to women alone.  Research shows that men are much more prone to acts of revenge than women are.  Gender difference is not the focus of this post.  

The desire for revenge is as ancient as time and I'm sure all of us have stories or times in our lives where we acted a little less gracious, a little less civil when we were wounded, loved and then rejected.

In fact, to be brutally honest, there was a time in my life where I held a great amount of anger and resentment towards a man who had hurt our family deeply.  The details aren't important, but the hurt was real and palpable and there was no possibility for any kind of justice.  I would lay awake at night devising complicated and detailed ways of exacting revenge on this man, only to wake in the morning exhausted, anxious and chicken.  I also had the calm and irritating voice of rational thought reminding me that there would be no satisfaction in revenge.

I didn't listen.

One night I took myself out to dinner.... one of those solo dinners that fill you with delight and anticipation, like those rare evenings when you have the remote control all to yourself.  Shortly after my arrival, a large party was seated directly in back of me.  I soon realized that the party was in honor of the man, the man that led the double life.  The man that was a church deacon on Sunday, part-time family man and part-time man with dark deeds and addictions unbeknownst to those close to him.

Emboldened by the two or three glasses of wine I'd enjoyed, but sober to the core of the pores in my bones, I approached the table.  The table that was celebrating and whooping it up.  I recognized some of the other people...people from my church past...people who had judged me during my divorce, people who had taken me off their social friend list.  But the revenge wasn't directed at them.  Perhaps that was just an added bonus.  I didn't think about it.  My focus was on the man with the open warm face and dark heart.

Everyone smiled, "Oh, Mary!  How long it's been since we've seen you!  What a surprise".  I barely noticed them; my eyes were intent on the eyes of the man, the man who was now nervously shifting in his chair.

I turned to him and pointed my finger in his direction, "You are a fake and a phony.  And you will be found out."  Gasps of disbelief were heard around the table.  "How dare you!"  One of the women said.  "What could he have ever possibly done to warrant this?"  I dismissed her with a wave of my hand replying,  "That's not important and it's not for me to say.  He knows exactly what I'm talking about."

And once again I redirected my gaze towards him, pointed my finger once again and said, "You are a fake and a phony.  And you will be found out."

I walked away and into my car, my heart pounding and mind racing.  What the hell did I just do?  I've never done anything like that in my life.  I immediately called my ex-husband to tell him what I did.  His praise and endorsement of my actions were reinforcement of my rude outburst.

I drove home feeling good, a sense of relief.  I felt proud of myself.  And yet still, there was no real satisfaction, no true reward.  Later, I learned that after I left, the man shook his head and with a tone of compassion, shared with the others how he had heard I had gone a little crazy after my divorce, that I wasn't stable, etc. etc. blah blah blah.  I knew this would happen and I didn't care what those people thought.  I did what I felt I needed to do at the time. Period.

I saw that billboard again in Times Square the next evening, and as I looked at the face of the woman on the billboard, the woman scorned, the woman angry,  I thought, "I'm really not all that different from her am I?  I want to be seen, I want to be heard, I want to be noticed.  I don't want to be lied to.  I don't want to be hurt."

It's been said that resentment is "like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die."  I know this to be inevitably true and an excellent goal to strive lose all sense of resentment or need for revenge.  To learn true compassion, even towards those who make it ridiculously difficult to do so.

But it’s also been said that revenge is sweet.  We're only human and sometimes, like Billboard Lady and myself, the momentary feeling of triumph and control, make the acts of revenge just a little bit sweeter, a little more palatable, if only for the briefest of moments.

*Note:  The man did eventually get found out...not because of my outburst; although it most certainly watered the plants of doubt his wife had been experiencing for a long time.  The couple is now divorced and my friendship with her has been rekindled.  The man continues to live in his denials and his addictions, without the benefit of house and hearth to lick his unknown wounds.  And that I find, truly sad.

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