By Andrea Wright
I am overwhelmed by a desire to visit a quaint restaurant this afternoon for a late lunch. Walking by, I slow, feeling drawn to it, I can’t help but enter. The smells emanating from the kitchen are heavenly: garlic, rosemary, basil and oregano. Italian food is one of my many weaknesses…that and discovering new restaurants to dine. Sometimes I choose well, sometimes, not so, but such is life, right? I allow my senses to take over, and I float into the restaurant.
After the smells normalize and discontinue their hypnotic trance, my eyes adjust to the intimate darkness of my surroundings. I survey the small dining room and the bit of light offered in the dim room bounces off the crystals in the chandeliers, yet the stark white tablecloths that stand out in the midst of darkness capture my attention first. Second, I noticed a familiar looking man—just the back of him, but I know immediately. And how could I not? I lightened, excited at the luck to run into Brent, and so coincidently. I make a motion toward him, and I stop just as quickly as my eyes follow his arm, down to his hand, which is holding and caressing an unfamiliar other. I am suddenly confronted with my past, my present and my future all at once. The reality of who I was and who I am, but even who I will become as a result of this coincidental meeting assault me and I have only seconds to react. I wonder fleetingly about chance encounters and if there are any true coincidences.
“Ma’am, would you like to sit outside or in? The weather’s quite nice today.”
I’d forgotten the pretty young woman who stood behind the mahogany hostess stand. I don’t want to attract attention to myself and I consider leaving. I stand here, unable to speak or move as I watch Brent at a corner table, hidden—not outside like the other patrons enjoying the beautiful day. It’s him. I’m sure of it as I examine the back of his head, his broad shoulders, and again his hands. How often had I held those strong thin hands in my own? And now they were in the hands of a stranger.
She was beautiful. Her hair was pulled back in a neat ponytail that hung loose at the nape of her neck, her auburn hair highlighted perfectly with blonde and red streaks. The stranger was tall and of medium build in a blue business suit and a smart white blouse that cris-crossed in the front and met somewhere, either at the back or side, to give her a sexy advantage over her counterparts for sure. Perhaps it was just her essence. I don’t know the answer because I’ve never made her acquaintance and something told me I never would even though they make a striking couple.
Finding my voice, I whisper to the patient hostess, “May I have this table here?” This position allows me to continue spying on Brent and his little friend without being too conspicuous, buying me time to consider what I would do next.
I quickly order coffee and then my thoughts drift back to my past. I feel a constricting tightness around my throat closing in like a strong pair of hands intending to kill me. It’s an irrational feeling, a reaction to visiting my past. It’s not to be repeated, or is it? Deep breaths, like I’d learned in therapy brought me safely to that year: the year I had an affair.
I was that same young girl sitting across from Brent, stealing glances at any man who gave me pause. And there were many. I had been married for ten years, and given up hope that my husband would quietly leave me for another. Eventually it dawned on me that I could be the one to leave, having met some wonderful soul who would understand me and perhaps rescue me from my unhappy union. And so I flirted. I refused to remove my wedding rings, a test for the man who would become my lover: no lies, no games.
Eventually one of them did more than glance back at me after looking at the 3.5 carat diamond on my left ring finger. He approached me, more with his mind than his body. I felt him gently caress me from across the room, igniting things inside me long dormant and I just knew: he would become my lover. I did what I had to, to bring our union to fruition. I approached him, not wanting this opportunity to elude me and needing to guide it in the direction I wanted it to take; I walked to his table and introduced myself. That was the beginning of our relationship. It was the end of my life.
At first I justified my behavior by using words like: fate, destiny, chakras firing and karma. But even I didn’t believe in such things at the time, so it made me appear even more duplicitous. I lived with a heightened sense of awareness that my husband would find out and not find out, and the excitement was palpable. It made the occasional rendezvous with my lover all the more necessary. We met at his apartment in the city, quick get-a-ways to New York, LA and even the Caribbean. It was an exciting time. I wasn’t used to being so happy, yet the lying was exhausting and it couldn’t continue. My lover began demanding more of me; my time, my soul, my self, but not my hand in marriage; I had nothing more to give and the thought of jumping into another relationship, even with him, didn’t thrill me, as I thought it might.
After about a year, he gave me an ultimatum: my family or him. He was ready to make our relationship more concrete, but he wasn’t ready to marry me, though he threatened to expose our relationship to my husband if I chose wrong. Seeing this side of him made me realize that I’d idealized him despite the warning signs that he presented from the beginning. I was wrong about him and me; I’d used him as much as he was using me, only, he had nothing to lose. And for me, everything was at stake: my children, my home, my lifestyle.
I chose him, as he was a reflection of my confused mental state at that time, but he wasn’t the man I really wanted. And neither was my husband. I confronted my husband that summer and let him know what transpired. It was the worst year of my life.
It’s easy to recall that time in my life; it’s like yesterday even though it had been over twenty years. The emotions and the overall experience are still so close to the surface. I learned so much—about me— and I grew up.
A waiter appears to take my order, but I decline lunch, as my appetite is gone and the temptations of the herbs and garlic are long forgotten. The staff is gracious enough to allow me to leisurely drink my coffee and dwell for the moment.
I’m drawn away from my thoughts as Brent and his friend conclude their meal. I am situated so that they will have to pass me in order to leave. I smile at the advantage I have with this spot, to sit without much time to strategize. I prepare myself for the confrontation that is sure to ensue. I watch them as Brent takes command of the bill. Ever the gentleman, he was raised well. Well enough. He makes a suggestive gesture toward his dining guest, rubbing her finger slowly, seductively. I turn away, not wanting to see him “in action”. The limited lighting offered by the chandeliers reflects off of his wedding band. And then finally, they stand to leave.
I feel light headed in anticipation, there is still time to leave, but instead, I take a deep breath and move the cup of coffee off to the side. I straighten to my full five feet, five inches. She doesn’t acknowledge me as she passes, but he does. Eyes as large, brown and liquid as my own stare down at me.
He excuses himself from his confused guest, whispering something, leading her away to continue on her own and returns and sits at my table. I want to be fair. I want to be non-judgmental. I want to do the best and right thing for my son.
I motion toward the waiter and order a glass of pinot noir, hoping that it will dull my senses a bit, which are full of rage at the one person I love above everyone else. I don’t know where to start, and he is clearly at a loss for words.
I search his face for answers to the numerous questions that plague me. “Brent. I’m not here to judge you. This is a true coincidence, if there is such a thing,” I say as I motion around the restaurant. “You know that I love you. I sit here before you, a friend. A counselor. A mentor.” I pause and take his hand, “what’s going on here?” My eyes involuntarily looked toward the place where he and his lover sat for lunch.
Brent withdraws his hand and places it under the table and out of my sight. “You know what’s going on here. I’m having an affair. Isn’t that what we do?” He spoke lightly, and there was just the hint of something I was unfamiliar with in his voice.
“No. It’s what I did. You knew full well what was going on all those years ago between your father and me. How could you repeat my awful mistake?”
“Yeah, I knew. You didn’t raise a fool,” he sneers.
“No. I raised a selfish, inconsiderate, spoiled child!” I reply through clenched teeth. The waiter arrives with my wine, and the break in conversation allows me an opportunity to examine my temper. I move the wine aside and out of harm’s way. The light fruitiness of the grape teases my nose, but instead of drinking it, I’m tempted to throw it on Brent. More calmly, I reply, “You don’t know everything. A child sees only what they’re allowed to see. I made a mistake that I would give anything to change.”
“Are you saying that you wouldn’t have had an affair? That you would have stayed with dad?” His voice is softer now, even childlike. We never spoke about the affair, the divorce. Not really. That he could misinterpret it calms me and allows me to continue in a civilized tone. I’d learned years ago that I need to be clearer with my intentions, my thoughts: both what I want others to know and what I want.
I look down, but just for a moment and when I look up, I meet his stare. “No. I just would have left him before taking up with someone else. That would have been the truest thing to do. For me. For us.”
Brent places his hands back on the table, although, he didn’t take mine, he simply clasp his own tightly. He sighs heavily as he looks down, away from me. “It’s different. You don’t understand.”
“So explain it to me.”
“It’s different. Pamela and I are at different points in our lives—“
“And you were when you met. When you married…” I interrupt, unable to control myself, my eagerness. “Do you know how badly I hurt your father?”
“And me,” he added quickly. Too quickly. He stabs again with his words as if I hadn’t heard him the first time. “And me.”
I stopped short, catching my breath with tears that wouldn’t pass through my eyes, but instead, slide down my throat as I am forced to swallow his words. Brent’s right. I hurt him. I reach across and touch his hand tentatively, with just a finger. I can’t resist. I lean in toward him before I speak, “Brent. You’ll stop this. You will talk to Pamela and determine if you’re meant to be together. You, the two of you will make a decision one way or the other and you’ll live with it. I’m so sorry I hurt you. Let me make up for my mistake and help you with yours.”
Brent takes my hand in both of his, in the same way he’d taken his lover’s and I bristle at the gesture. He then pulls my hand close to his mouth and kisses it. “I’ve always learned from the best.”
I smile and exhale for the first time it seems since he’d walked up to the table. It was our little joke: he had always been my little shadow as a child. I always told him, that as my little shadow, he would learn from the best. It wasn’t too late to be a better example, to right a wrong. To end an affair.