As I sat at the cluttered dressing table putting the final touches on my makeup for my date with Erroll, I prayed that Harry wouldn’t call—not tonight. I didn’t know what I would say if he did; I was running out of excuses. I yelled for Emily, my middle daughter, to set up the ironing board and plug in the iron. Late as usual, I grabbed a skirt and blouse out of the laundry basket and was headed down the stairs when the phone rang.
“Hi, babe,” Harry, my ex-husband, said in his sexiest voice. “What’s going on?”
My brain was racing “I’m just getting ready to leave, Harry. I’m going to the movies with Colette.” Lying was becoming too easy for me these days.
“Oh, really?” He didn’t mean it as a question, I knew. “Got a hot date, huh, D.J.?”
“Come on, don’t do this.” My voice sounded whiney to my own ears. “You know I don’t have a hot date. I just wanted to get out and I haven’t seen her for a while.”
“Don’t worry. I understand perfectly.” Then the line went dead.
I gritted my teeth. I’m not going to let him get to me tonight, I thought, and went downstairs to iron my clothes in the kitchen.
As the iron glided over the fabric, I thought of the tightrope I’d been walking on with my ex-husband since that day in court over a year ago. Why am I still torturing myself? I thought I hadn’t done anything wrong by divorcing Harry. The marriage had become unbearable. Neither one of us was happy and it would have ended sooner or later. Then why. do I feel so guilty? I thought for the thousandth time.
Harry and I had been married eleven years. He was right out of the Navy and I was one year out of high school with a typing job. It was hard for me to say no to him then, too, so we started sleeping together on our third date. The marriage had started out badly because I was pregnant. Harry used that against me for years, trying to make me feel like he’d done me a favor by marrying me.
He beat me down in other ways, too.
Oh, he never hit me; no, it was always more subtle than that. He belittled me constantly, whether alone or in front of other people. Nothing I did was good enough; I couldn’t cook, clean house, or take care of our three daughters to suit him. It didn’t help that I had a “Super Mom” for a mother-in-law. I couldn’t have lived up to her example for anything. That woman could work a full-time job, bake eclairs, turn out gourmet dinner, change the oil in her car, and landscape her backyard, all in one day!
The only thing Harry didn’t complain about was our sex life. That had always been good. That was what got me hooked up with him in the first place! I never understood how two people who fought so much during the day, could get along so well in bed. When he touched me, I forgot all the bad feelings—for a while–but they always came hack in the morning.
When we’d been married for about nine years and the girls were in school all day, I decided to go back to school, too. He had a fit about that.
“Who do you think you are, some fancy women’s libber?” he had screamed at me. “You’re just looking for an excuse to avoid doing your housework. I’d stuck to my guns, though, and managed to squeeze in a couple of classes a week. He finally gave up yelling about school and complained more loudly about my lack of housekeeping abilities. Now he had real ammunition; I was “never home.” The truth was, I was not a very good housekeeper, I tried, really I did, but clutter just never bothered me like it did Harry. I could never find anything; he always knew just where to look for an item. He would go in the kitchen on Sunday morning and cook a huge breakfast, and clean up everything as he went along. I couldn’t make a tuna sandwich without leaving the kitchen looking like a disaster area.
He was just as rough on our daughters as he was on me: They were “sissies” and didn’t like fishing or helping him work in the garage. Of course, it was also my fault that we’d had all girls. He didn’t know much about, biology either, or he would have had to take responsibility for that himself!
I finally decided that Harry just didn’t like women, small or grown. His overbearing attitude and sullenness finally wore me down, and I asked him for a trial separation. He was angry, but he finally found an apartment nearby and moved out of the house. I knew I wanted out of the marriage, but it was easier if Harry thought it was a temporary split.
Easier became my guideline. It had been easier to stay with Harry than leave him. It was easier to slide out of the marriage with a separation. And it became easier to lie to him after I met Erroll, then to tell him the truth and end the charade.
The doorbell brought me back to the ironing board, My oldest, Katie, let Erroll in and he peeked his head around the corner into the kitchen.
“Late, as usual,” he said pleasantly. Erroll never got ruffled at my tardiness.
“At least I’m ironing something to wear for you. I could have worn it wrinkled,” I said playfully as I kissed him. “Honest, I’m just about there. I’ll throw this on and we’re off.”
“You can throw something on and look better than most women do after hours of preparation,” he said in my ear.
I felt myself blushing at his compliment. I wasn’t used to having nice things said about my appearance. I knew I was okay looking, but Harry had never gone out of his way to make me feel attractive—except in bed.
Later, as I sat across from Erroll in the small Italian restaurant we had come to call our place, I looked at him over the rim of my wine glass. He was just the opposite of Harry. It was like comparing water to fire; both had good and bad points, but somehow I found it was more peasant to float with Erroll’s personality than be burned by Harry’s.
“You’re quiet tonight, D.J. Is anything wrong?” Erroll asked after a while. He reached across the table and took my hand.
“Everything’s great, I answered. “I was just thinking how, lucky I are to have met you. If I hadn’t signed up for that art class, I wouldn’t be here with you now.”
Erroll was one of the new teachers at the junior college where I was taking classes. Our first date had been a picnic at a park doing sketches of trees. He tried to tell me I could do anything I set my mind to, and do it well. He had told me I was talented and only needed a little guidance, but I found it difficult to believe I was talented at anything. He kept reassuring me and he hadn’t given up on me—yet.
“I’m the lucky one. I found my love and a student who makes me look like a good teacher, all rolled up into one.” He gazed solemnly at me. “Your eyes glow gold in the candlelight, D.J. I think I’ve struck it rich!”
With a man this good to care for me, how could I be so stupid as to keep Harry hanging around in my life? I was totally confused by my own behavior. I knew this relationship was getting serious, and I’d better make up my mind to do something about Harry, or I would lose Erroll. He didn’t know I was still seeing my ex-husband.
Seeing! That wasn’t quite how my relationship with Harry should be described. I was sleeping with him!
As I sipped my coffee after dinner, I remembered that first day in court. The room was huge and attorneys with briefcases milled about, waiting for their turn to take care of business. Business was what it was, too. The questions, were all about finances, support, assets, property, and back accounts. No one brought up feelings. Divorce is so matter-of-fact these days, I thought as I waited for my attorney to call me to the stand. I was sick to my stomach, and as I looked across the room at Harry, I could see he felt pretty much the same way.
Out in the hall after it was over, my attorney congratulated me on a “job well done,” and left me standing there. Harry walked slowly toward me. I expected the worst. “Want to have a cup of coffee?” he asked.
“Are you serious?” I asked back. “I figured you’d never speak to me again.”
“D.J., I don’t want this, this separation as you call it. But hating you isn’t going to bring you back to me,”
Tears stung my eyes. I didn’t know if I could handle this. Harry had never been this reasonable, or looked this beaten in our entire marriage. He actually sounded gentle and caring.
Later in the coffee shop, we talked about the day.
“I don’t think I’ve ever experienced anything that cold and unfeeling in my life;” I said. “Well, maybe some of our arguments:..”
“Come on, babe, let’s forget the fights. I’ve been thinking about us a lot since I moved out. I guess I mightn’t been kind of rough on you, Maybe some of the problems were my fault.”
Kind of rough! For Harry, that was almost an apology! He must really be feeling down, I thought. Or is it just another game?
“How about dinner? Maybe we could talk about things.” Harry was being positively sweet. “You’ve never seen my apartment. I could whip up one of my delicious bachelor specials. I’ve become a pretty good cook the last several months.”
“I don’t know…” I began.
“Look, D.J., I just want to be alone with you so we can talk. When I come to the house, the girls are there and it makes it hard. Just come for dinner. Please?”
How could I say no to an invitation like that? He seemed so sincere, I couldn’t find it in my heart to turn him down. “I’ll be over around seven, okay?”
I drove my own car so I could leave when I wanted to. As I stood at his door, I had such butterflies in my stomach I almost ran away. I thought he must have heard my heart pounding, but I guess I actually knocked on his door.
“Hi. Welcome to bachelor heaven,” he said as he let me in and took my coat. He was really rubbing in the bachelor thing. The room was lit by candles, and a bottle of wine was chilling in an ice bucket. I didn’t even own an ice bucket! Something was cooking–it smelled good–and there were chips and dip on the coffee table. At least I can outdo him on the hors-d’oeuvres! I found myself thinking.
Harry poured me a glass of wine and pulled me down on the couch next to him. “I’ve missed you,” he said quietly. We sat sipping our wine and made small talk about the girls’ school activities and the day’s events, then he refilled my glass. I was starting to feel more relaxed. After all, this was just my husband, the same old Harry, I told myself. What was there to be nervous about? Then he reached over and took the glass from my hand, and his hand brushed mine. I felt like he’d set a match to me. He set my glass on the table and kissed me very slowly. Within minutes we were tearing at each other’s clothes and I was in his arms on the floor. Nothing had changed.
“I sure can’t keep your attention tonight, can I?” Erroll was waving his hand in front of my face.
I came back to the present with a start. “I’m so sorry. I guess my mind just wandered. Please forgive me.” How could I be here with the man I loved and be thinking about sex with my ex-husband? I was filled with guilt at my thoughts.
“D.J., I want to ask you a question. You know I love you, don’t you?” Erroll looked serious. “I want to marry you and take care of you and the girls. I want to be with you forever. Will you marry me? Soon?”
I knew I wanted to be with Erroll. But how could I say yes to him with Harry hovering over me like a cloud? I thought. That night in his apartment had been only the first of many like it I would swear I wouldn’t see him anymore. Then he’d call, and I’d weaken. It was as if he had a spell over me. Once, after a date with Erroll, Harry had called and I’d gone over to his apartment and gone to bed with him. Of course, I’d hated myself later, but I also rationalized that at least I hadn’t slept with them both on the same night! No, I couldn’t promise to marry Erroll while I was living this double life.
“Erroll, I love you, too, and I do want to marry you. I just have to. . .talk to the girls about it. Give me a little time, please, darling?” I held onto his hands tightly over the table. I hoped he’d give me enough time to break it to my daughters. . .and to break it off with their father?
In the car, Erroll kissed me tenderly. I won’t rush you, D.J, I know your marriage was a bad experience. Give me your answer when you can. I want you to be sure. Just remember, I love you.” ,
I kissed him back. With all my heart I knew he was the right man for me. This sick tie to Harry had to be broken, or I would never have any peace in my life.
Harry had been treating our separation like a temporary situation, and that was my fault. If I had been honest with him from the beginning, the tie would have been broken and I would be free to get on with my life. I had to find the strength to do what I should have done when we first separated—end the relationship completely.
When we got home that night, Erroll walked me to the door and kissed me gently. He told me again that he loved me.
As I was hugging him, I looked over his shoulder and saw a car drive by the house very slowly. It was Harry! A ripple of cold fear went down my spine; Harry had caught me in my lie. At the same time, a feeling of relief hit me because I knew the game playing was over. It would be unpleasant, but then again it would be easier this way. . again. I wouldn’t have to struggle to find the courage to tell Harry the truth; he’d found out on his own.
I got ready for bed with a feeling of dread. At the very least, I expected a nasty phone call. It didn’t come. Finally I drifted off into a restless sleep.
I don’t know what awoke me. I thought I heard something, but when I strained to listen, there wasn’t a sound. I opened my eyes, trying to see in the dark. Gradually a form took shape at the foot of the bed. My breathing became ragged and I felt suddenly ill as I tried to remember if there was anything nearby I could use to defend myself.
“You’re mine, D.J.,” a voice said. It was Harry! I reached for the lamp.
“Don’t!” he said. “I want to be here in the dark with you.” He walked around the bed and sat down on the edge, leaning down over me.
“What are you doing here?” I asked. “How did you get in? You gave me your house key:” My thoughts were going in circles. Of course he hadn’t given me his house key. He’d expected to be coming back here to live. “What do you want?” I was too frightened to move.
“I told you, DJ. You’re mine. That guy I saw you with tonight can’t have you. He can’t make you feel like I do. . .You know it and I know it.” He pulled the blankets down to the foot of the bed, then very slowly peeled my nightgown up over my body and threw it on the floor. He kissed me then, very gently, beginning at my ear and then more roughly as he worked his way down. The familiar ripples of desire washed over me and all my good intentions went up in smoke with the fire Harry set in me that night.
When I woke up the next morning he was gone. I thought it might have been a dream, but then I saw the nightgown on the floor, and felt the familiar pang of remorse. I felt like an adulteress, caught up in some web of lust, cheating on the man I loved. All I wanted to do was marry Erroll and forget Harry forever. Why can’t I find the strength to do it? I prayed.
When I got home from work the next evening, Katie told me Erroll had called, and said he’d call back. I asked her to tell him I had to work late. I needed time to think, time to work through some of this guilt and confusion before I talked with him. I had sunk so low. I was even having my daughter lie for me.
I avoided Erroll’s calls for several days.
Then one evening he was waiting for me in his car in front of the office where I worked. I could hardly avoid him.
“Well, hello, stranger.” he called. “Fancy running into you here.”
I smiled nervously. I hoped he wasn’t here to pressure me about an answer to his proposal. “Hi. I’m sorry I haven’t been able to see you for a while. We’ve really been busy at the office, and I’ve been beat.”
“I guess so. You weren’t in class the other night, and it’s not like you to miss a class. Want to grab a bite to eat?” he asked.
I couldn’t think of an excuse, I agreed. “Let me call my neighbor to check in on the girls, okay?”
At the restaurant, Erroll looked into my eyes. “What’s going on, D.J.? I know you’ve been avoiding me. Did I freak you out by asking you to marry me? If I’ve scared you off—”
“No, no, that’s not it,” I interrupted. -
“I love you! It’s just so soon after Harry, and I wasn’t quite prepared. I want to marry you, Erroll, I really do. I’m just confusted about some things. It’s hard to talk about it.” My hands were shaking. “Can’t you give me a little more tilme to work things out in my head?”
“Sure,” he said quietly.
We finished our meal in silence and then Erroll took me home. At the door he held me at arm’s length. “D.J., if you’re not ready, I’ll understand. I just thought marriage was the natural thing to do when two people love each other. We can keep things the way they are, if you like.”
I’d better do something, I thought or I’m going to lose the best thins that’s happened to me in a long time. -loud said, “I know in my heart this marriage is right for us. I won’t make you wait much longer, I promise.” I kissed Erroll good night and went into the house.
The next evening Harry called. Some friends of his whom I hadn’t met were having a small party, and he wanted his “lady”, there with him. I decided his was my chance to break it off. Since we wouldn’t be alone, there was no chance of my hormones taking over when my head could he in control! I told Harry I’d meet him at the party, and got the address. He didn’t argue, since he knew that was the only way I would go out with him at all.
It was a mixed group of people he worked with, a couple of fishing buddies and their wives, and a bartender he’d become friendly with. The men all congregated in the living room to talk about sports, while the women typically stayed in the kitchen and gossiped about their kids and men. When the hostess served the food, the groups melted together, and each woman planted herself next to he man to make sure his plate and glass were full. Harry patted the arm of his chair, motioning for me to sit there. It all was starting to feel very-familiar—and very uncomfortable. The bartender finally asked Harry where he’d found “that pretty little thing. ”
Harry put the arm that wasn’t holding his plate around me and smiled a broad smile. “This pretty little thing is my ex-wife.” Then he paused. “And if she plays her cards right, I’m going to marry her again.”
Everyone in the room whooped and cheered at Harry’s announcement. He put his plate down and gave me a big kiss in front of the whole crowd, and whispered in my ear, “We’ll celebrate later, babe over at my place.”
I felt the blood drain from my face. Marry Harry again? I’d rather eat nails! A that moment reality set in with a vengeance. I’d been playing with Harry and Erroll’s lives, as well as my own. I had let Harry make love to me because I was afraid to let go, and I guess he made me feel desireable after all those years of self-doubt.
I took Harry into the hall, and told him I had to leave. The shocked look on his face turned to anger when I explained how I felt and told him I was in love with someone else.
“I’m going to marry him, Harry, and I don’t want you to call me anymore. I’m sorry if I’ve led you on, but it won’t happen again. My attorney will contact you about arrangements for seeing the girls. I don’t want to have to see you anymore. Oh, I’m also changing the locks!” I meant every word!
I drove from the party straight to Erroll’s apartment. When he answered the door, I threw my arms around him and kissed him hard. When he recovered from his surprise, he kissed me back, then pulled me inside looking t me with a question in his eye I couldn’t wait to answer.
“If it’s not too late, I’d like to formally accept, with honor, your proposal of marriage. And I want you to know that I am sure, very sure, that I want to be your wife!”
Erroll held me to him tightly, and I knew it wasn’t too late. In fact, I was just in time to get a new start on a wonderful life, with a wonderful man.