Sometimes “the end is in sight” at the outset.
So it was when he struck up a conversation with me at work. Six years older than me, he was different from any man I had known up to that point in my life. He was handsome, intriguing, charismatic . . . and, as my coworkers had to point out, flirting with me. He was someone I could never “take home to mother”. Besides, I was still pining for someone else.
We interacted casually for a few weeks, our conversations gradually becoming personal and revealing. I understood that he was recently divorced and had a three-year-old son.
I was naive, inexperienced and oblivious so a friend explained that he was pursuing me. I had never before been “chased”.
Eventually, my defenses worn down, I agreed to a date and the relationship progressed. I knew that it would, of necessity, end, but I didn’t know when so I told myself that, in the meantime, I could just relax and enjoy spending some time with him. We never talked about long-term commitment.
Once, we both had a day off work, so we decided to spend it at Disneyland. At that point, I believed he was staying with his sister while looking for a new apartment. We stopped by her place so he could change his clothes and, since it was a weekday, his sister was at work and we were alone there.
We had such fun at the park that day. Although I had been to Disneyland countless times, I had never spent time there with a boyfriend so it was an enchanting experience. We snuggled even closer on the Matterhorn than is required by the configuration of the bobsleds. He reached out and splashed water on me every chance he could until I was soaking wet which was fine because it was a really hot day — literally and metaphorically.
Summer waned and fall brought changes to our lives. I resumed my studies, he moved in with another sister who had a room since it was cheaper than renting his own place. We saw each other less frequently and there still was no talk of long-term commitment which was neither surprising nor objectionable.
One evening, I agreed to give him a ride to work. I no longer remember his explanation for not having his car that night.
What I do remember vividly is this: I went into the building with him for a few minutes to chat with our coworkers and was walking back to my car when I saw a strange woman approaching me. As she drew closer, I smiled and kept walking. I had never seen her in my life and had no idea that she had followed us there — and waited for me to exit the building so that she could confront me.
I was almost to my car when she stepped toward me. “Are you the woman who has been messing around with my husband?”
Since I would never have an affair with a married man, I laughed.
“Sorry, but I think you’ve got me confused with someone else,” I said casually, as I got into my car.
“I don’t think so,” was her reply. “Aren’t you Janie?”
Now she had my undivided attention.
“How on earth do you know my name?” I asked her, my brain racing to deflect the inescapable – and ugly – conclusions I was drawing from this newly-acquired evidence.
I knew, as I looked into that strange woman’s eyes, that the end of my relationship — the end that I always knew was inevitable — had come. But via a circuitous route I never, because of my naivete, could have imagined.
As we talked, I learned that the man I had been seeing was not, in fact, divorced at all. He had lied to me — which came as no surprise to her. I was horrified to realize that I was talking with the woman who was still very much, unfortunately for her, the wife of the man I had been seeing for a few months.
I had unwittingly been “the other woman.”
We began comparing notes — dates, times, locations. She emphatically insisted that I had been with him to their apartment on a weekday while she was at work and their son was in daycare. She swore that a neighbor saw us and described me to her.
When she told me the address, the extent of his deception reinforced that the end had arrived: The apartment he had described as his sister’s was actually the apartment where he lived with his wife and child. That’s why his clothing was there.
That charming, affectionate man, fully revealed as utterly lacking honor or integrity, had spent the day at Disneyland with me — while his wife was working and his son was in daycare – after taking me into their home.
Shock and disappointment quickly gave way to revulsion — and rage. I had been duped in a most skillful and reprehensible manner. It was small comfort to learn that I was not the first. Unfortunately for her, I would not be the last.
We decided to confront him, so we walked into the building together. When he saw us standing side by side, arms crossed, eyes blazing with anger, he stopped dead in his tracks.
He didn’t say a word. He just stared at us for a moment before putting his hands up the way a suspect does when cornered by the arresting officer. He shook his head repeatedly as he slowly backed up a few steps and then, still shaking his head, turned and walked out of the room.
After apologizing to his wife one last time, I got into my car and drove out of that parking lot — and into my future, forever changed. Wiser, more cautious, less willing to trust anyone.
That night marked the end of that brief relationship.
It also, in many tangible ways, marked the end of my innocence.