“The cads and bounders – they win. They win.”
A cry of pure, if anachronistic anguish, it spills out in the warm office air, and hangs there.
It is late, way past quitting time in my therapist’s office, the end of an unresolved conversation in a series of unresolved conversations.
Wearily, we make our way into the early spring night.
It’s the ghosts, virtually everywhere, that get to me. Intrusive, unwelcome, vigilant, they remind me that once someone cared what I thought, and wanted me – and is gone.
Ghosts of unfinished business, ex-wives, and present girlfriends – they throng around me as I sleep alone.
I met him a year and a half ago, around Thanksgiving.
A casual date in a Thai restaurant – it seemed innocent, a chance to meet a new friend.
Hi marital situation screamed loud and clear that he was not a suitable prospect.
Call them Scott T. and Zelda B.
Zelda was apparently in London, meeting up with the new man in her life - a man, I was told, she had met on Twitter.
Brave new world indeed, one in which love can wane and wax in 140 characters.
As we nibbled our Thai food and shared a bottle of red, Scott gave the impression of being stunned. Now and then, tears would fill his eyes.
While we both were writers, we worked in completely different fields.
A maniacal (and I mean maniacal) Red Sox fan and a loyal Yankee booster?
An avowed atheist, Scott had little time for organized religion.
I expected my confession that I was not only a writer but an ordained minister to stop us cold.
It did not.
He thought he was ready to date.
An advocate of the idea that good boundaries make good friendships, I thought I could keep my distance.
Phone calls lasted well into the night. Emails flew back and forth at warp speed. It was easy to be with him.
Yet when he mentioned the possibility of sex without strings, I told him that wasn’t my style.
I had been wary of rejection in the world of virtual scrutiny. I had not expected to be propositioned as often as I was online – and I’d gotten the “no thanks” speech down to an art.
But my intimate, profound, flirtatious conversations with Scott continued, like the quiet pressure of water against a riverbed, to deepen our relationship.
Yet he wasn’t sleeping, was tormented by nightmares, and had begun to shed weight at an alarming rate.
While this worried me, I didn’t see his struggles, then, as a flashing yellow light.
Instead, we decided to forge on.
After all, we had warmth, and laughter, honesty and wit – and tenderness. We had that in abundance.
Then fast as the lash of a whip, Zelda was back in his life.
She wasn’t sure. She thought she loved him. She needed time.
Like a drug he knew was toxic but craved, he was drawn back to her.
Amicably, we agreed to part for a month. It was then that too I began to shrink, walking the hills around my house, red-rimmed eyes hidden behind huge glasses.
I had given him not only my affection, but my trust.
I can’t begin to tell you the men I chose not to trust before him. Perhaps I was just tired of keeping them at bay.
Somewhere during that month, Zelda apparently found me on Twitter (ah, Twitter) and began to read my personal blog. It wasn’t hard to figure out who was delving into my frequently roiling thoughts.
Annoyed, I still recognized that someone (me) who wordsmiths for public consumption can’t choose her virtual company.
From the tidbits I heard via the grapevine, the reconciliation didn’t quite go as planned.
At one point, Zelda’s lover arrived from London and stayed with her – in the same town where Scott lived. He and I exchanged torrid, genuine, and sweetly revealing emails while she spent time with her London friend.
Somehow, in the midst of all of this, marital reconciliation was discussed, and decided, he told me.
As a toast to Scott and Zelda’s renewed determination to resurrect their marriage, they would go to London together to celebrate.
Even then, it seemed fantastical to me. Too late, though – the sane and gentle man I had seen would surely triumph – would he not?
But he’d met his match in Zelda.
Boy, did she know how to play him.
Though almost crazed with worry myself, I took my therapist’s word that this palace of delusions would eventually collapse. Zelda didn’t really want Scott – but she didn’t want anyone to have him either.
Within a month, the whole relationship was in shards.
The day they planned to leave for England, she told him (he told me later) that she was missing her lover, and it would be hard not to see him – while in London with her husband.
Elementary, my dear Watson.
More than enough was finally enough. After a few heartbroken tweets, he was done with her.
Within weeks, he was also done with me.
I had kept a careful distance while their house of cards fell apart. He needed time and patience – that is my remedy for my teenage children.
Such a blow would take days, weeks, or even months to absorb. The scars would linger.
We could be friends for a while longer before we had any choices to make.
I had forgotten that taking time for healing after a traumatic break-up isn’t the American way.
The man who showed up at the house three or so weeks after his marriage fell apart was no one I recognized. More focused on his Red Sox cell phone app than on his dinner companions, he seemed critical and distant, sharing workplace gossip with another friend while I sat stunned and silent.
After I bade him farewell, I went into the house and sobbed.
The next day, he called and told me that I didn’t meet his standards for attractiveness. As painful as it was, the comment was ripped right from his soon-to-be ex-wife’s playbook. I had never known him cruel before.
A few weeks after that, he told his Facebook friends (I was still on the list) that he was “in a relationship” with a local yoga instructor/reiki practitioner.
I found out later that they had begun to date within weeks after the London disaster. The romance played out online.
Eventually, he “unfriended” me on Facebook – a move that ironically, prompted me to contact him again after a few months of silence.
When asked, he told me that he’d done it to honor his relationship with his new love (not, he said, that she had any reason to be insecure.)
In the meantime, I was getting regular blog visits from Zelda.
I could have found this ludicrous. Or amusing.
Yet for a medium without physical contact, the Internet has a way of multiplying insults, letting them linger in the mind and on the screen.
I felt her incursions like a splinter under my skin.
I wish I could say that time allowed those wounds to heal, that I found relief, if temporary, in someone else’s arms, that I moved on successfully.
Those options aren’t always available.
I still stubbornly continued to believe, in spite of the speed with which he fled, that there had been something different about the way we engaged each other.
Perhaps his girlfriend worried about that too.
Recently I logged on to the professional social networking site, Linked-In. When I saw that someone who had viewed Scott had also viewed me, my first thought was that Zelda was up to her old tricks.
On a page of potential viewers, there was one name I recognized – that of the current love of Scott’s life.
The most likely scenario?
Even as they shared bed, board, and protestations of undying affection, she was checking to see if he and I were still connected.
Stubbornly I had hung on for months, hoping that eventually he and I would find a way, if not re-establish a friendship (probably not possible with the girlfriend in his life), then to have a frank, forgiving conversation and move on.
I longed to see the man I had known – even if once more.
In dreams I think I see him still. I cannot control my unconscious.
But it is hard to write a happy ending for this story.
In a kindly attempt to bring me back to reality, a friend told me recently that he was trying to rent his townhouse, making it easier for the two lovers to combine households.
Rumor has it that the she is allergic to cats. So the ones his ex-wife refused to take have, apparently been left behind, their daily needs provided for, but not the constant affection that most animals crave.
I went home that night and stared unseeingly at my bedroom ceiling for hours, as night crept towards dawn.
I pondered the potential effect on his teenage son of injecting him into yet another of his dad’s live-in relationships, so soon after his last one had fallen apart.
Inconceivable that my friend might leave innocent animals without the attention they deserve, however he inherited them.
Incredible that he could be, perhaps, living with a woman who had to stalk him online.
If that was the case, he was not the man I had known.
In the morning I sat down at my computer, punched up Rosanne Cash’s “Roses in the Fire,” and began to type “our” story.
No need, anymore, to hold back.
If anyone tells you that ghosts don't exist, believe them not.
They live. Ah, they live.