It had been a year since I moved to New York to pursue my Master’s and ultimately, a career in broadcast journalism. It was the loneliest year of my life. In a city with 13 million people, you’d think it was easy for a young, attractive, outgoing woman to make friends, but it is not. And if making friends seemed difficult, finding love, or at least attraction, seemed almost impossible. As arrogant and self-serving as it sounds, I was surprised at my inability to find some one to kick it with. Back home in the mid-west, I never had problems attracting and meeting men. But here I was, a single girl in the biggest city in the world, asking myself for the first time “what’s wrong with me?”
But I got over that quickly and decided to just focus on school and my career which were both at the top of my priority list. All this added to my reluctance when one of my few city friends, Nicole, asked me to go with her to a party her job was hosting. I pushed my trepidation aside and decided to go. There, I saw him. Talking to friends, he seemed like the life of his circle. He said something, they all laughed, his hands went up when his song came on and theirs did too. He was tall, thin and cottonwood complected; reminiscent of the trees adorning my block back home. And I caught his eye. I saw him gaze as I danced, trying hard not to let him know I’d noticed. We played this eye game for a while. It was a familiar game and a pleasant bit of flirtation that, unlike most of the games big city guys play, didn’t seem totally foreign to me. And then we spoke.
“Nice Frames,” he said loudly, talking over the music. It threw me off. Off all the parts of me to decide to compliment, he started with my glasses – which happened to be brand new.
We danced for a while. He bought us drinks and we ran through the usual litany of “just met” questions which I’d grown accustomed to since moving to the city.
“Where you from?” “What do you do?” “Where did you go to school?”
I was surprised to find that he hadn’t gone to school, well, at least not college. He’d instead gone to the police academy and joined the NYPD. I found this strangely attractive. After a couple drinks and a couple more dances we exchanged numbers and by the time I stumbled back into my apartment I had a text from him asking if I’d made it home safe and telling me that he’d enjoyed meeting me.
And that’s how it was for the next few weeks. Every couple of days we’d get into these 12 and 13 message conversations via text. We even made plans to get together a few times – each time he canceled saying something came up that he had to take care of, something clearly of greater importance than me. I swear men invented texting as a way of communicating without really communicating. I couldn’t count how many times I’d found myself in similar situations with men. We meet, everything seems great, we text for a while and then it just goes nowhere. Or, we text for a while and he eventually invites me out – of my house – to his house – for “dinner”.
Just when I was ready to write him off I got a text saying:
“Hey, I know I’ve been flaky lately, canceling our plans all the time, but I’m really interested in getting to know you and really hope you can be a little patient with me.”
So I responded:
“This is perfect timing because I was just beginning to give up on you.”
“Aww … don’t do that, let me take you out this weekend.”
“I’ll think about it.”
“Lol @ ‘you’ll think about it’ … you know you wanna go!”
“You might be right … but if you cancel on me again … lose my number! Lol.”
“Nah I won’t cancel, I promise. I know haven’t been all the way upfront about why I’m so busy, and why I’ve had to cancel so many times – so I’m just gonna put it out there. I have a two year old son and each time I’ve canceled it’s been because I’ve had to adjust my schedule to take care of him.”
This, for me was what I’d call a “pink flag,” not quite a red flag or deal breaker, but I definitely had not really been interested in being a step mom. I liked him though and I respected the fact that he was willing to drop whatever he had planned to be there for his son – even if those plans were with me.
“I appreciate you sharing that, and I understand.”
“There’s something else. His mother and I. We live together. It’s just a temporary thing for his sake and we’re not together anymore, but it just makes sense financially for us right now.”
I didn’t know how to respond. Who does this? I thought about whether or not I believed him, whether I believed that this nice man that I’d met would be that manipulative, that shady to tell a woman he wanted to cheat with that he lived with his baby’s mother but that they weren’t together. That prospect seemed so far fetched that I actually believed he was telling the truth. I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt and before I could respond to tell him so, he sent another text:
“I know this sounds crazy … like total BS, but just let me take you out this weekend and give me a chance to explain it all. If you’re uncomfortable with it, we don’t have to see each other again.”
“That’s fair I guess.”
“Ok, I’ll pick you up Friday at 7:30.”
Friday comes and I can’t really describe the anxiety I was feeling. I was excited. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d actually been on a real date. At the same time, I couldn’t help but be a little nervous. Regardless of what he said his situation was at home, something felt wrong about the fact that after he dropped me home for the night, he’d be going home to another woman and the child they had together. I told myself that if this nervousness and trepidation persisted after the date was over, I’d never speak to him again.
At 7:30 on the dot, my cell phone rang and he said he was outside. I hustled to finish getting myself together and by the time I got downstairs, he was standing on the stoop of my brownstone. He was taller than I remembered him. I stood on my toes to kiss his cheek as we hugged and I could feel his hands gracefully slide around my waist to the small of my back; each individual finger felt with a firm gentleness that belied both strength and grace. They were exploratory, inquisitive almost. He opened the car door and closed it behind me. As he walked around the front of the car, checking both ways for traffic, I took advantage of the brief opportunity to get a good look at him. He was handsome. His suit, tailored nicely, glasses a perfect fit for his face and his stride and swagger lackadaisically confident.
“So, where are we headed?” I asked as he pulled off.
“Midtown. This spot I read about in New York Mag – haven’t been there before but it got great reviews.”
“Ok … that sounds fun. What kind of food?”
His phone rang.
“I’m sorry Sam, I have to take this.”
“It’s alright.” I said, wondering if it were her.
“This is Sgt. Ferguson,” he said and for some reason my legs crossed instinctively.
The caller, a woman, was clearly a victim of sorts in a case he seemed to be working on. I tried not to eavesdrop, but couldn’t help but hear her distraught tone. He spoke with an authority and understanding that eventually put her at ease explaining to her that everything happening was all part of his plan. A plan he’d worked out that would eventually end with a resolution she’d be happy with. He scolded her for what must have been her apologizing for disturbing him, reassuring her that she could call him anytime. The entire conversation was … impressive. Equally impressive was his ability to pick up right where I’d left off before the call, without a reminder of the question or prodding from me.
“So, it’s kind of like new American fare – is that alright?”
“Yeah that’s great, I’m like super greedy, I’ll eat anything,” I said cringing inwardly at the graceless obtusity of my response.
Our table reserved, we were seated immediately, despite how crowded the place was. After ordering a round of drinks and then our food, I excused myself to the ladies room to wash my hands and freshen up … like my mama taught me. As I left the table he stood half way and he did the same when I returned. The food was good an the conversation was better. He was articulate and could speak intelligently with informed opinions on every subject we broached. Eventually the conversation moved toward his living situation.
“… And then baby was kind of unexpected,” he continued, “I mean, we’d talked about it, we wanted children together, but we’d planned to get married first, all that good stuff. Once she got pregnant, I had her get rid of her spot and move into mine to expedite saving to buy a house.”
“Does she work to?” I regretted the question as soon as I asked, but he took it in stride.
“Yeah, she’s an officer too – different precinct though. It was good living together at first. We were excited about the baby and all the planning for him was taking up our time. But once he was born, things just changed. Don’t get it twisted, he’s the greatest thing to ever happen to me, but it’s like having him just exposed all the ways we weren’t compatible.”
“Wow,” was the best I could muster.
“So now I’m planning to move out. Six more months max. I’m gone. Gonna buy something close – and I’m hoping her and I will remain cordial and really be able to do the co-parenting thing.”
“Yeah,” I said empathetically. Before I knew it I’d found myself rooting for him for some reason, hoping he’d win, but having no idea what “winning” actually constituted.
Time flew and as quickly as it had begun, the date was over and we were in the car headed home. He double parked in front of my house, walked me to my stoop and ended the night with a gentle kiss on my cheek. I was surprised and almost disappointed that he didn’t go for a real kiss, but I appreciated his gentlemanly nature. Looking back, it occurs to me now that by the time I tucked myself in, I’d forgotten all about the fact that he was going home to another woman.
The next couple months we went out a few more times, a couple times just for drinks, a couple times for dinner. We became intimate. The same gentle firmness I felt as his hands moved across my back that first date was displayed when making love. I was arrested. Addicted. It wasn’t the quick, immediate, crack-like addiction I’d experienced with other guys. It was slower, more progressive, like the first time you wake and realize you need a cigarette. And it was that addiction that blinded me to the evolution of our relationship. Going out to dinner became ordering in and going out for drinks became him bringing a bottle of Pinot. We never again talked about his son’s mother, he never even mentioned her name. His son however, he was ever-present, a perpetually perfect excuse to cancel our plans at the drop of a dime in a way that made me feel guilty for being upset with him. The six months it was supposed to take him to move out turned to 8 months (problems closing) and 8 months turned to 10 months (seller had second thoughts), but it didn’t matter. For a time, I was lost in him.
Eventually, the haze that had covered my eyes cleared and I began to pull away. He didn’t fight it. As spring gave way to summer, a year after we’d initially met, our relationship was over. I was fine. The weather was warm and there were plenty of men, tons to do and way less time to be concerned with him. But as fall gave way to winter, he started in again with the text messages. He eventually invited himself over and in that moment, nothing seemed more appealing than the warmth of his strong hands.
He brought food, but we didn’t eat. We didn’t talk or catch up. We barely exchanged pleasantries. Before I knew it we were in bed and before I knew we were having sex, it was over. No passion, no tenderness, not even a semblance of the chemistry we once had. Just sex and then sleep. I woke up to an empty bed. It wasn’t the first time he’d left in the middle of the night. He sometimes worked nights and I understood. I checked my text messages as he’d usually send one when he left before I awoke … what I found shocked me – though it probably shouldn’t have.
“Hey baby, I won’t make it home tonight, gotta work a double. Kiss the baby for me. Love you.”
That was quickly followed by …
“Obviously … that wasn’t for you.”
Which was was followed by.
I never responded and neither did he. For a long while I avoided even thinking about him, avoided asking myself how I’d been so naïve, avoided admitting to myself that for more than a year, I was his mistress.
***Author’s note: Samantha is not really named Samantha, but she really is a friend of mine. We’d been talking about making a series out of some of her adventures in singleness and we’re finally getting around to it. There are four more stories we’re planning to tell and they only get better as she grows, matures and learns how to build successful, healthy relationships.***