This is a little longer than my normal posts, but it’s a story I’ve wanted to write for a long time. I’m not sure I’m 100% satisfied with it, but it’s a start. It’s definitely a story worth telling. Read on and you’ll see what I mean . . .
Disclaimer: Any resemblance to actual persons or events in this story is not coincidental in the least. It actually happened – to me. However, I did change the names of the innocent. After a brief struggle with my conscience, I even took the high road and changed the names of the guilty.
I was quite put out at the knock on my door. Expecting a call at any minute from my boyfriend Jim, I didn’t want to be bothered with a visitor. Todd, who frequented our condo due to a tremendous crush he had on my roommate, walked in and asked if I had a minute. Strange. And inconvenient. I sat down to chat, but didn’t give Todd anywhere close to my full attention.
Immediately, Todd started hammering me with questions. Jim and I had dated freshman year and resumed our relationship three years later after we had both spent significant time out of the country – Todd wanted details. We had just returned from a weekend trip to visit my grandparents – Todd practically requested the trip itinerary. We studied together at the university library – Todd asked when and on what floor of the library. We had our favorite places to go on dates – Todd wanted locations. Jim had recently given me a peek at an engagement ring and asked if the cut met with my approval, which it hadn’t – Todd demanded a detailed description of the ring. My annoyance grew – no wonder my roommate wasn’t interested in Todd.
Worse yet, Todd started asking about Kelsey. Yes, I knew who she was. I knew she had been engaged to Jim. Yes, I knew all about the breakup – her mental stability was in question, so when Jim broke it off, she had threatened to commit suicide. Naturally, he was still in periodic contact with her to insure that she never followed through on her suicide threat. I had even seen them together the other day on campus. Poor girl. Jim – short for James – had a big heart, which was one of the reasons I had fallen in love with him, after all.
Todd leaned forward on the couch and took a deep breath, clearly agitated and nervous. I clued in and gave him my full attention.
“Did you know I work with Kelsey?”
I didn’t .
Apparently, Kelsey talked to Todd about her love life as much as I did. That’s where it got interesting. You see, Kelsey was practically engaged to this amazing guy named Jamie. He even had the ring she had picked out and was waiting for the perfect moment to slip it on her finger. However, Jamie had had taken off this past weekend with an old girlfriend to visit her grandparents, which bothered Kelsey to no end. But after hearing that Jamie’s picture had been tacked to the dashboard – the entire trip – so the ex wouldn’t get any ideas, Kelsey felt way better about the whole thing. This poor girl apparently couldn’t afford the gas money, so Jamie had generously offered to help drive and pay for the trip. Jamie – short for James – had a big heart, which was one of the reasons Kelsey had fallen in love with him, after all.
I sat there not breathing, staring at Todd, wanting to throw up. Todd offered sincere sympathy and apologies. My brother came over and let me sob on his lap. My roommate drew me a bath and offered me chocolate. I couldn’t stomach it.
Just before crawling into bed that night, I somehow managed to call Jim. told him that something had come up and I couldn’t see him that weekend, and then quickly hung up. I knew – with absolute certainty – that if I talked to him for even a few minutes longer, he would explain away all the incriminating information I had just heard. And I would let myself believe him.
I was still in love with him.
Curling up into a ball and pulling the covers over my head, I truly wished morning would never come.
When it did, I forced myself through my daily routine of classes and work and discovered there are times you have to remind yourself to breathe.
I had some some figuring out to do, so made my first call to Jim’s best friend Dave, whom I had known since freshman year. According to Dave, Jim was head over heels in love with me and Kelsey was a raving lunatic. She must have lied to Todd – that’s the only thing that would make any sense.
I tried hard to convince myself that it was no longer necessary to contact the other two people on my list. But I couldn’t quite.
With extreme reluctance, I made the second call to Jim’s sister. She told me that Jim had been lying since he was a kid, their parents had been worried about him for years, even cited an example of a time when he lied about the color of shirt he was wearing. I listened in disbelief, sincerely hoping that – for some inexplicable reason – she was joking.
My third call scared me beyond words. Kelsey – even a crazy, suicidal Kelsey – had to be contacted for me to truly see this picture clearly. But honestly. How?
Serendipity, it turned out.
For the first time ever, on a campus with a student body of roughly thirty thousand, Kelsey and I crossed the same street, at the exact same time, going in opposite directions. I recognized this opportunity as the non-coincidental gift that it was and knew I had to take it. But I still waited until the last possible second. Stepping onto the curb, I yelled across the intersection.
She turned and waited.
“We need to talk.”
We set up a time and place.
Knocking on her door took more guts than I thought I had. During the awkward silence that followed her opening the door, Kelsey and I really saw each other, really looked at each other, for the first time. And then we talked for hours.
James was the ultimate multi-tasker and had been quite busy. He was able to juggle a full load of classes, a twenty-hour-per-week job, and serious relationships with two women. He could even keep our food preferences straight. Our rough estimation was that James had been getting a couple hours of sleep at night. At best.
One kink in his duplicitous armor was my perfume. It took about two minutes for James to kiss me goodbye in my preferred study carrel on the fifth floor of the library, walk down three flights of stairs, and kiss Kelsey hello in hers. Two minutes isn’t quite enough time to rid oneself of the scent of perfume. Kelsey recognized my perfume almost immediately; she had recently commented to James that his new cologne was a little on the feminine side.
Trying to wrap our minds and emotions around James’ actions proved more complex than mapping out his schedule. We cried, screamed, even laughed at the incredulity of our situation. Ironically, we were each talking to the only other person on the planet who could understand – almost perfectly – what the other was going through. Surreal yet comforting.
Unfortunately for James, he had messed with the wrong gals. Kelsey had just been accepted to law school. I was nearing completion of my English and German literature degrees. These recent events had most definitely rocked our worlds, leaving us a bit shaken. But shaken and broken are entirely different. We were women, we had been wronged, and James was about to hear us roar.
In a manner of speaking.
The knock at James’ door came at 9 AM the next morning – a Sunday. His roommate’s eyes visibly popped when he saw both of us standing there. This same roommate had seen me leaving the apartment at 11 PM and Kelsey coming at 11:15, or vice-versa, on many different occasions. Smiling in giddy anticipation, he invited us in.
We politely asked if we might speak with James for a moment. He obliged. We heard the conversation.
“James! Kelsey (pause) and Susie are here to see you.”
“Both of them?”
The voices quieted, and the roommate reappeared.
“He’s still asleep.”
We raised our eyebrows.
He was perceptive.
Delighted, he walked back down the hall.
“They say they’ll wait!”
We knew James would consider all possible escape routes. Having already considered said routes, we were aware of his dilemma. He would have to walk directly in front of us to leave via the only exit door, and his bedroom window was in full view of the couch where we were sitting. He had nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, and we all knew it.
A lifetime later, James swaggered into the room wearing sweats and a desperate smirk.
“So . . . ya’ll found out.”
Kelsey and I had made a pact – sealed by a few tears – to remain calm. We were not to yell or cry under any circumstances. Accordingly, we simply dumped our mountain of incriminating evidence into his lap and waited for a response.
James had charisma – Kelsey and I had both fallen victim to it. And he could lie – we would not have been sitting on his couch otherwise. But we were to make a surprising discovery that Sunday morning. Charisma and lies were, in fact, all he had. James couldn’t muster up a vestige of humility, any sincere apologies, or even an honest attempt to explain himself. When his charisma and lies were pulled out from under him, there was nothing left.
Except that desperate smirk.
Seriously? We had both fallen in love with that?
We walked outside into the bright sunshine and closed the door – firmly – behind us.
I’m not gonna lie. The next few months weren’t a walk in the park. I cried a lot, lost my appetite, cut the long hair James had adored, and had to use every ounce of willpower I had not to run back to him when he called.
But I made it. In fact, my new groove was vastly improved and smarter than ever. I re-entered the dating world armed with new strategies I had picked up while in the trenches: (1) Charisma is grossly overrated, and (2) There’s no shame in requesting character references (don’t bother asking the best friend), or even lie detector tests when necessary.
Come to think of it, James played a significant role in helping me choose the man I eventually married. Thanks to him, I knew exactly what to look for. Of all the admirable character traits my husband possesses, the one that initially attracted me to him – and that has kept his ratings high over the years – is his absolute, uncompromising honesty.
Perhaps it’s time I write James a thank-you note.
A helpful deed deserves acknowledgment.