It wasn’t a dream. It happened. I know it happened in my real, waking life.
One afternoon, we met at a cafe. He had taken a few hours out of work, and I didn’t have classes until much later. So we met and shared a coffee that I wished was wine.
We held hands over the tiny table-top.
It was a gray, late autumn afternoon. I had just started my first year of graduate studies, but could barely concentrate on school because of my obsession with the man who sat there with me in his expensive shirt and fine watch. It was a highly anxious intoxication, knowing he was taking secret time away from work for me.
We sat outside. It was chilly, but we were comfortable.
Actually I was not comfortable. My stomach was curling around a knot, and it felt like my ribs were a cage full of fluttering canaries. It was a highly unpleasant sensation, but I was spending considerable time convincing myself it was love.
“I decided I should be happy for at least the little bit of time I have left in my life,” he said. My heart sped up exponentially. “So, I’m going to do it. I’m going to leave her.”
You couldn’t call what we were doing “dating”. Not exactly. We were seeing each other for dinner and movies, yes. We were holding hands while we walked in malls and bought stuff. We were saying “I love you,” and we were having sex. Lots and lots of sex. Shameful sex hidden in cars and hotels and empty apartments of friends. He was staying out with me until the wee hours of the morning and he even introduced me to some of his friends.
But he was married.
So, while it looked an awful lot like dating, and while it felt a lot like love, it lacked a certain something.
It was full of a lot of other things.
Exhaustion. Guilt. Fear. Jealousy.
Common sense would have dictated those were not the cornerstones of any healthy relationship.
Common sense was not driving me deeper and deeper into a forest that would ultimately be very dank and miserable.
Common sense was nowhere to be found as he said these words to me, and I heard them, and responded.
“Really?” I gasped, smiling until my face hurt. “You’re really going to leave?”
“Yes. I’ll ask George if I can crash with him for a bit. Until I find a place. So, will you marry me?”
After every time we were together, I would ask him to marry me. Every time. Even if we had just talked on the phone, I would ask him to marry me. Saying I adored him was like saying the Hope diamond is a pathetic trinket. An understatement that didn’t even touch the depth of my infatuation.
I kissed him right there in the cafe, not caring at the people who stared at us and wondered what the attractive young woman was doing with the tired and much older man, and told him I would marry him. He told me he would get me a ring. Or maybe I demanded a ring. I can’t quite recall. When Common Sense isn’t involved, memories have a way of twisting and turning.
But I know it really happened. I know he told me he was going to leave and start a life with me. I did not dream it. It was real.
I also know this much is accurate: I stayed with him for three more years because of that afternoon in the cafe.
“So, when will this all happen?” I wanted to know.
“Well, we are supposed to go away for the long weekend to the Cape. So, I guess I’ll have to do it tonight. I’ll have to talk to her. It’s not going to be pretty.”
“I’ll be here for you,” I offered, not realizing how inane my twenty-something offer was in light of the mountain he was about to climb only to pack with dynamite and blow it to smithereens.
All that night, I waited for his call. I waited for him to call and tell me how it went, to give me the next step of the plan.
He called me the next morning.
“I couldn’t do it.” He sighed and over the phone I could see him hanging his head and rubbing his eyes.
There was nothing I could do or say.
He went away to the Cape for the weekend with his wife and I writhed in the mire of anguish.
Then he came back and we picked up where we had left off.
And I stayed for three more years because I thought there would be another afternoon in another cafe with another proposal.
But there never was.