True story. A long time ago I fraternized with a fellow soldier overseas who I will call S. He was smart, handsome, charming, and wooed me like no other. He was also fully married, a thing, I did not know until he returned stateside. This news came via a letter from his wife. The wife he said he was “separated” from.
“Home wrecker,” she addressed me.
Seems S confessed when she asked him what was new. Seems I got caught in the crossfires of semantics. S wasn’t almost-divorced separated. He was out-of-sight-out-of-mind separated.
Either I was young, dumb and blinded by his super swag or S, who ironically taught me Morse code, should be CIA. Probably both.
A separate letter arrived from him days later that began with the pet name he’d called me and I was still too raw and hurt to read in its entirety before shredding it. He phoned too. I growled and hung up. Repeatedly. What were we going to talk about? How he’d lied to me for a year or whether marrieds had a right to date? Love or not, I don’t do man-share.
By the power of second chances or hard lessons I am too knuckleheaded to learn the first time, he boomeranged back into my life about ten years later, apologizing and professing his epic love. I was divorced and he swore up and down that he was too. The sparks were still there and we burned up the phone lines the month before he flew out.
It was as magical as ever.
On the second trip, we talked about moves and marriage, but uprooting my daughter or bringing a stepdad into her life weighed on me. Until she paged him at the airport. Mortifying as it was to be in the gate lounge (in the days when you could) kissing my man goodbye and have his wife page him, I instantly had the clear sign we’d run our course.
What are the odds?
I peeled myself from him and ran for the exit. The next day instead of being all weepy and messed up in the head as expected, I bolted straight up in bed, buzzed off sheer adrenaline.
The thing was he had my baby picture. One of two. Among his many talents, he was a photographer and, with slight trepidation, I’d given him the better of the two tattered photos to touch up and make a negative.
Damn. I’d have chalked up just about any other possession to spoils of stupidity. But this was back in the day before I scanned favorite photos for safekeeping and these were originals.
I took a few deep breaths, said a prayer and dialed S’s cell. It went straight to voicemail. Then, I rung his home, a number he’d given me but said to stick with cell since it had better long-distance minutes. Since I’m not a big phone person and he always called me, this didn’t raise any flags. His son answered and my heart dropped to my stomach until S got on the line. I called him names and things, and asked for my baby picture. He paused a minute, then his wife came on.
It was weird.
Maybe his penance began by handing over the phone. Letting her call me a home wrecker real-time and blame me for the altar he’d set up in the garage with my pictures (The bathtub shot too? I wondered).
I listened to more than I should have, tears silently streaming down my cheeks. Then it hit me—like artic air—that she was trying to pin it all on me. Like I’d roofied him or held a gun to his head versus him being a conniving cheat. “I just want my baby picture,” I said finally. “Did you see that one on the altar?” I tried not to sound broken. “Give it back and you’ll never hear from me again. Don’t and I’ll call his job every day. Then I’ll call you. Is this a good time?”
It was a simple ultimatum with a bit of a bluff, but once out, I had to follow through. Besides, I was sure after some shifting of the soul, I could survive heartbreak, but I could not, would not abandon my irreplaceable memento.
After, I went for a run, thinking a thousand crazy things. I’d been duped twice by a Master of Dupe, but so had she and she still wanted him. Why did she stay? Why was she mostly mad at me? What the hell was going on in that marriage? What would I say to them next to get my picture?
The next day, I discovered their number had been disconnected. S’s cell too. Duh. Spirit a little shaky, I dialed his receptionist, requesting to be transferred to the head cheese.
It was weird.
I should mention that S was still a military man and at the end of my brief-but-focused sharing session, the commander politely assured me he’d have my property returned. Moral codes of conduct and all. I got two voicemails that evening from unknown numbers. One from S yelling and then strangely shifting to sorry –I-love-you stuff. One from her—a short, snarly update that my photo was in route.
Sure enough, the envelope came next-day Fed Ex (S even touched up the original before making the negative and enclosed a fresh print). I hugged it to me like a recently-released hostage and it hasn’t left my possession since.
Second time was a charm for me. I never heard from either of them again, nor have they heard from me. Don’t know if they’re still together, but I suspect so. Dysfunction runs deep. You’d think every time I look at that picture, I’d remember that heartbreak, but I don’t. I smile back at my little self and think of all the wonderful adventures we’ve had and count my blessings that my cheater sniffer has improved with age.
To lessons learned,