Happy frickin’ Valentine’s Day
Then, taking a deep breath, I plunge into grey ethical water. I take not just one, but two trays of cupcakes off the shelf and put them in my shopping cart. Twenty-four white cake cupcakes. Twelve with blue frosting, and twelve with chocolate. The red ones had already sold out. I quickly cover the carb stash with my coat and exit the bakery department towards the lettuce and other fresh veggies trying to look nonchalant.
The fact I have been dispatched for cupcakes is actually, believe it or not, an honor. You see, the cupcakes are for Rio’s kindergarten class’ V-day party. They are also having a veggie tray and hotdogs and I don’t know what else. Each parent was assigned to bring something different. We were assigned the cupcakes as we are the most reliable parents (hence the honor part), and in the teacher’s opinion the cupcakes where the most important key element without which the children would be devastated.
But I couldn’t really get on board with filling 22 six-year-olds full of high fructose corn syrup for a holiday invented by Hallmark…
Anyway, I escaped Wal-Mart undetected by patients or colleagues and delivered the trays to Rio’s class where I was welcomed by 21 little voices in unison: “It’s Rio’s dad with the cupcakes!” Well. That was pretty cool after all.
But I’m ashamed to admit, this is not my only Valentine’s Day guilt. Actually, guilt has never been much of an issue for me. I used to have a pretty strong moral compass that lead me through life so I guess I’ve never had much to feel guilty about.
So my V-Day confession: I’ve been on two dates with a woman who’s not my wife. Yikes! What the fuck are you thinking/doing, you ask? And regular readers will probably suspect that I’m setting you up for one of my notorious literary pranks where I lead you down the wrong path just for fun. Not this time. I’m deadly serious and deadly confused.
In all fairness to “the Other Woman,” I should point out right now that she didn’t regard either date to be a date. So bear in mind this is a one sided story.
My friend Laura just moved, so I was over at her new house helping her install a huge moon-shaped rack for pots and pans, putting up track lighting, and doing other handy-man type stuff that I’m really not that good at, but ends up falling to me frequently because all my friends are women, and I’m the only representative of the testosterone set in my circle.
“You look stressed, what’ up?”
Well I had to tell someone. So I spilled the beans. I accidently when on a date with a drug rep, I told her.
“Wow. Ummmm…OK. Now wait a minute, how can you accidently go on a date?”
Now that is a very fair question. So here is how it happened. I’ve know this drug rep for about three years. I flirt with her every 3-4 weeks when she drops in. So if you do the math we’ve maybe seen each other 44 times at 15 minutes each time, so we’ve only spent a little over six hours together. Ever. Despite that, we’ve become close.
Now I know what you are picturing. You’re thinking, this post-middle-aged fool has gone gaga for some 20-year-old blonde, blue eyed siren who’s bra size is greater than her IQ.
Give me some credit.
The Other Woman in my life is only a few years younger than I am. She’s Spanish-Hispanic like my wife. In fact, there might be some resemblance. Something in the eyes especially—the placement on the face. The color, dark pools, like guarded deep forest animals. Keepers of secrets. Hard to read. Their lips are similar too. This woman is also as beautiful on the inside as she is on the outside.
About a month ago I slipped her the Red Blood Cell Books url. She called me the next day, excited. “This is so awesome, let me know if I can do anything to help you sell the book.”
That was an offer too good to refuse. We arranged to meet at Starbucks after we were both off of work to talk details. I promised not to flirt, just businesses. She allowed as how I could no more stop flirting than I could stop breathing but that she knew I was harmless. I filled Deb in on her offer and let her know what day I’d be home late. Deb doesn’t have a jealous bone in her body, good thing with my world being full of women and girls.
I got to the Starbucks early, secured the two comfy chairs and dug into an article on Incretin Mimetic Therapy and Cardiovascular Risk. Yeah. My life is that exciting. Five minutes before our appointed meeting my cell phone rings. She’s had the day from hell, and hasn’t had a bite to eat. Starbucks won’t cut it, can she take me to dinner? Sure.
And we had the most wonderful dinner. And it felt sorta like a date. Actually better than a date because I didn’t have a date agenda. We talked about my book. But we also talked about Shakespeare and our kids and history and what doctor was screwing his nurse and….
….and before I knew it three hours had passed and we both needed to call it a night. In her rush to meet me she had forgotten her jacket. It is cold in Santa Fe at night in January 7,000 feet above sea level. As we headed for the door she made some comment about being stupid and forgetting her jacket.
Hold on, I said slipping my go-bag off my shoulder and setting it on an unoccupied table. I started to take my jacket off.
Her eyes flashed wide, “don’t you dare!”
Shush, I told her. I draped my jacket over her shoulders, grabbed my bag and held the door open for her. I’ll walk you to your car.
And as we walked out we heard the hostess say to the manager, “Chivalry isn’t dead after all.” We both laughed. Without thinking, I extended my elbow to her and she slipped her hand into the crook of my arm and we walked arm-in-arm down the street to her car.
At her car she returned my jacket, gave me a quick hug and we told each other what a great time we had and let’s do this again. I got home way later than planned, and to my surprise, was greeted with a kiss from my wife; the first real kiss from her in well over a year.
All in all, perfectly innocent. Or so I thought at first. But over the next few weeks I found this woman on my mind. A lot. No perverted running-naked-through-the-woods fantasies or anything. Just on my mind.
Driving to the clinic one day my commuting partner commented on my mood: “You seem unusually buoyant these last few days.”
Really? I hadn’t noticed.
“Your humming for God’s sake.”
So I gave her the reader’s digest version of what was going on, wrapping up with you know I not looking to have an affair with her or anything. I just really enjoy her company.
At which point my commuting buddy actually snorted. “If I had a dollar for every time that came out of a man’s mouth I wouldn’t have to work for a living.” Her view: I was kidding myself.
At which point I realized I was in trouble. And over the next few days, with this woman increasingly on my mind I began to feel increasing like I was a cheater, at least in my heart if not in my actions, which many will argue is just as bad.
The problem with the damn heart is it is autonomic. On the physiological front it beats with no conscious thought. And, damn it, as it turns out, love is autonomic too.
So my moral compass spinning out of control in a magnetic storm I decided to seek out advice of my most trusted female friends. Universally they surprised me. I expected outrage that I had developed an interest in someone not-Debbie. Instead they were all like, gee, we love Debbie, but if anyone deserves to have an affair and some happiness, it is you. See, it is no secret that for the last seven years my wife has increasingly ignored me both physically and emotionally.
But at the same time one of my core beliefs is that you need to be true to yourself regardless of the environment. You can’t justify breaking your own ethical code due to circumstance. You have a moral compass for the same reason a ship has a compass. Hey, sometimes you end up in the fog and need to know where you are going.
Now bear in mind during all of this I haven’t a clue what the Other Woman is thinking or feeling. This is all a crazy one-sided me vs. my shadow drama. Also in the middle of this emotional mess is my 20th Wedding Anniversary, pay cuts at work, broken down cars, and anxiously waiting the first round of reviews of the book. Will people like it? Not like I had any stress or anything.
Finally I told my wife: you know, ummmm, this woman has been on my mind a lot. Maybe more than is healthy.
Her reply, “don’t worry so. I trust you.”
Stake through the heart. Big fat stake with lots of splinters. And rusty nails. Am I still trust-worthy?
So we had our second date (so I’m thinking of this as a date). One of my girl friends asked me: so what are you going to do? I have no idea. I guess I want to know where her head and heart are at. And then I’ll take it from there. On one hand I hope she isn’t the least bit interested in me in that way. On the other hand…
So now I’ve degraded to the level of a 17-year-old boy. I go to bed the night before our “date” thinking: oh boy! I get to see her in 24 hours. The next morning I agonize about what to wear. Well these pants make my butt look good, but this shirt is more macho, but it doesn’t match the butt-pants. Then driving to work: oh boy! I get to see her in 12 hours.
The day crawls by. Having spent so many years with doom-and-gloom Catholics I expect her to call and cancel. Why? Because I’m so looking forward to seeing her that of course something bad will happen instead, right?
I meet with my primary care Doc in Santa Fe before my “date.” My Doc is resting her hand on my wrist taking my pulse, “Hmmmmmmmmmmm……you are really tachy,” she says. I know what she means: I’m tachycardic. My pulse rate is way up. My heart is going pitter-patter in anticipation. I mutter a lie about coming down with a cold. I don’t want to tell my Doc that I’m flying into an emotional hurricane without a flashlight, compass, or map.
So we meet. The first thing she says is “I love…(wait for it)…
…the color of your car!” Yep, she has never seen the mean green machine before. Sigh…
So we chat over wine and tapas (appetizers). I’m not sure if we have chemistry or if only I have chemistry. But she sets the record straight. Her bedrock principal in life is that she has not, does not, will not interfere in a marriage. Bad karma. I experience a mixture of relief and disappointment.
Hey, thin ice hypothetical question, I say to her, and understand I don’t ever anticipate leaving my wife. But if I were single, would you be interested in dating me?
She regarded me steadily with those beautiful brown eyes and said, “Lee Dubois, if you were single I’d seduce you in two seconds.”
I gotta admit, that was the biggest ego boost I’ve even gotten in my life. Ever. I know I’m taken, but it is nice to still be on the radar. Nice to know that after twenty years with one woman I’ve still got what it takes to attract another.
So it ends with my heart in a tangled mess. But it ends well. With my moral compass damaged I’ve fallen for a woman with a strong and fully functional compass. It was an even better “date” than our first one. The one person who had it in her power to forever shatter my damaged moral compass instead choose to help me fix it. I feel good. Liberated, perhaps.
On the way home my cell phone rings. “You up for being my best friend forever?” she asks.
“Where are you at?”
I’m driving down the dark interstate, happy, relieved, maybe a bit sad, still lonely and craving love and support and the feel of another human’s skin against mine. All the things my wife no longer has the energy to provide me.
I’m in the Hallmark store, I lie to her, can you believe that they don’t have a card that says ‘thanks for re-setting my moral compass?’
“What? Get the hell out of there and get home to your wife.”
So happy V-Day Dear Readers. Happy V-Day Dear Wife. Happy V-Day Dear Other Woman.
I love all of you.