Advice Wednesdays: February 21, 2002

DEAR ABBY: I am the other woman you rarely hear from. I had an affair with a married man and married him after he divorced his wife.

Please warn your female readers that even when an affair leads to marriage, it isn’t going to be what they expect.

My husband and I have been married nearly nine years. We have a beautiful daughter. She is the only good thing that has come out of this mess. My husband is selfish and cares only about his own needs. His ex-wife still won’t speak to me (not that I want her to), and their son barely acknowledges my existence. All I feel is guilt over breaking up their marriage and remorse for the mess I made of my life.

So, Abby, if any of your readers are dating a married man — give them this warning: Run for your life now! He may seem sweet and caring, but that is only because he likes the chase. Once he gets you hooked, you will be treated the same way he treats his present wife. If you complain, he will tell you that you “asked for it.” After all, you knew he was married. — SORRY FOR EVERYTHING IN TEXAS

This is a textbook example of what my inbox looks like day in, day out: a depressing stew of cliches from an embittered person. Most people get my form response, since there’s simply too many letters to personalize an answer for every one, and my stock reply usually includes suggesting some kind of writing therapy. This advice may seem ludicrous on its face, but I figure if they think writing to me could help them, they may be inclined to keep writing. I’d like to think I am responsible for no small percentage of little outposts in the “blogosphere.” Even if it’s just a Myspace “blog.”

But I have lifted your letter out of the dross pile because today, it resonates with me. Since you don’t actually have a question, let me ask you one: what do you think sets man apart from the animals? I like to ask people this question as an ice breaker at parties. I know the answer, but I always pretend there isn’t one. Most people will say things like, well, clothing. Or medicine. Or even the heart of your letter–infidelity.

We can make claims that animals participate in all the rituals–the expressions of our human-ness, if you will–that man holds dear and believes are unique. Infidelity is an obvious one, but I could make compelling, if slightly tortured, arguments about animals and their use of clothing, medicine, politics, rudimentary postal systems, and so on.

Alright, lest you begin to suspect I am being paid by the letter, I will out with it. What separates us from the animals is the notion that we are special. Think about it. Celebrities think they are special and it is proved to them by the number of pageviews on their particular pudenda. Your coworkers think they are special. They do not even think they are coworkers! That guy you saw on the bus one time wearing a hat in the form of a frog’s head, even he thinks he is special, as if he held some kind of patent on being a loser.

As of this writing there are about 6.5 billion humans on this planet. If everyone realized tomorrow exactly how special, how un-unique they were, you would hear the wailing sound of an entire planet’s human hearts breaking in unison. There would of course follow rioting, men raping everything in sight, and sportkillings. The fact that we’re all just basically deer in pants will be our secret, okay?

Reread your letter. Do you know how many of this flavor of confession letter I get a week? Christ. It’s like a treatise on the futility of human existence. I recommend having someone read you some Russian novels and spending less time outdoors, or failing that, leaving the thinking to the professionals.

That might have been a little harsh. I mean, even I, “Sorry for Everything in Texas,” have fallen prey to thinking I was special. I, too, was once the other woman. Because of my notoriety as an internationally-acclaimed and award-winning advice columnist, it has been challenging for me in the past to have a normal dating life. I can’t just walk into the pub and grill down the street and meet the man of my dreams. I mean, I could, but I might get stepped on.

See what I did there? I think you could use a little self-deprecating humor in your situation as well.

Naturally I did what any woman would do with additional dating challenges: I logged on to the World Wide Web and I found what was the only site at the time with the mission of connecting little women with the men who adore them. There were some unsavory sections of that site that I avoided spending time on, involving relationships of a more “casual” nature and downloadable photos and “art.” No, I was looking for real, lasting love with a man who understands the specifics of my situation and was willing to prove it by building me special staircases.

Then I found Him. His profile said “divorced.” His children were grown, and of average size, having taken a big bite out of his genetics. He was a professor of Etruscan Studies, the real deal, leather elbow patches on his tweed coat. If that doesn’t send your heart racing then you and I should probably never go out for lemondrops.

After months of getting to know him, I flew to his city. On leaving the airport, I had my driver take me straight to his office at the university. My future husband had offered to meet my plane, but I demurred. I didn’t want to make a scene there; I knew if my driver opened my bespoke traveling case I would be immediately recognized.

Upon being delivered to his office and first laying eyes on him, I immediately felt this intense connection between us. I asked my driver to beat it for a couple of hours. I felt foolish and hypocritical that I had repeatedly cautioned my readers about internet romance and how it is false and dangerous, when here I was standing in front of a man I thought I knew so well. I managed to keep my tiny pants on through exactly one scotch, which he had helpfully provided to me in an antique glass thimble.

We made love then. I will avoid boring you with the lurid details, since we’ve all been there. I guess it’s a little different for me. Perhaps you’ve seen pictures of people standing next to a great sequoia? Or perhaps you have stood next to one yourself. Let me say, though, it was not my first time at the giant redwood rodeo. I was not afraid. I knew I was in love.

Afterwards, as I laid out across his hands, he admired my perfect proportions and extremely toned arms. I have never had a special typewriter or keyboard made until recently, so when I work it’s a process that looks a little like cross-country skiing, or like I am using giant dialing wands. Why not multitask, has always been my philosophy.

There was a natural lull in the conversation and I knew I was getting a little sleepy from the scotch and our frenzied activity.

“I have something to tell you,” he said.

“Let me guess,” I said. “You’re married.”

I moved to be near him before the ink was even dry on his divorce papers. I spoke with his wife exactly twice. The first time was before the financial settlements were finalized, in the home where they had raised their children. I was living with him in his temporary apartment by then, and he drove me over so we two could meet. It was a kind of formal attempt to be civil, since it wasn’t like I would act in the capacity of a stepparent to their grown children. And she already knew who I was, of course, having seen my face over the column in the newspaper every morning for a dozen years.

They had been married for twenty-seven years, and I was surprised how resigned she seemed about their impending divorce. She was just under three feet tall and even managed to make a few jokes, which as I said, is a trait I always admire. I sat on the armrest of the couch, with him next to me for support, though he assured me he did not expect an emotional scene.

“Well. Good luck with him,” she said, putting her feet up on a tiny footstool with an embroidered cover that I could probably not even touch the top of without a strenuous jump. She tsked at me, and addressed my soon-to-be-husband as if I was some kind of pet or a child. “Smaller than me and famous. What a coup for you.”

As the tiniest living woman in the world, nay, in all of recorded history, it was a coup for someone who loved small women. He could do no better than me, and I believed other women posed no threat. I was his prize, his jewel. Our small, private marriage made minor headlines with the attendant puns, like “Thumbelina Marries Paul Bunyon” and other ridiculousness. Reputable publications were respectful, and we even granted People a short interview, which became a sidebar on married couples with physical compatibility challenges.

It was a happy time. I had a new book to promote and was glad to make the breakfast show circuit, which allowed me to gush about married life a little. He was traveling for work and preparing to publish a paper on some pottery fragments that had been found in the Alps, but he was set to wrap up his travels and settle in for the new school year, which was about to start.

In the midst of all of this we managed to find a small 40s bungalow and I was having it retrofitted to my specifications. Due to some childhood trauma relating to dogs, I prefer to travel on special walkways that are near the ceiling. The house had a child’s bedroom upstairs that overlooked the back garden and I did my work there, stuffing silicone in my ears to block out the hammering and sawing that went on all day long. My favorite times were when neither of us were traveling, after the carpenters had gone home for the day. We ate with a fire crackling, and I sipped claret out of one of my thimbles while I ate a tiny piece of his lambchop. We applied to adopt a child, and we thought we were in the running for a precious little boy whose young mother consistently peed clean. Our lives felt complete.

However, the honeymoon, as they say, did not last. His paper on the new Alps pottery find was accepted by a prestigious archaeological journal and published. As the bustle of the new school year turned to the tedium of winter, he was out more at nights. He was distant, distracted, unavailable for conversation behind his stacks of papers. Too tired to make love. This was a man, who, a year before, would stay up on the phone with me until two a.m. his time, chatting to me about my day or asking me to describe my tiny custom-made undergarments, his breath growing ragged on the other end of the line.

I knew he was always surrounded by excited, fresh-faced graduate assistants, both young men and women, clamoring for his attention (and probably ready to give him some as well) behind his closed office door. I tried to ask subtle questions about the physical appearance of his colleagues and mentees, and scanned the room at university cocktail parties from my perch on his shoulder, on the look out for any small women.

Again I took a path contrary to all of the sound advice I give to my readers and stand by, now more than ever, after bitter experience. I snooped. I looked through his desk at home; I “accidentally” logged on to his academic email. I was not satisfied that this lack of evidence was a true indication of his fidelity. After all, he had kept me a complete secret from his first wife.

I saw on his calendar that he had written in a regents’ dinner for that night and I hastily concocted a plan to travel to his office. Either he would be out, and I could snoop, or he would be in his office, probably not alone, and I could catch him red-handed. I had my driver bring me to the campus and let me off on a dark corner, making the excuse that I wanted to surprise my husband.

“I don’t think this is a great idea, Ms. Van Buren. What about, er….”

“Cats? Birds?” I said. “I think my biggest worry might be rats. If people are walking dogs on campus they will probably be leashed. This is for the best. Can you park nearby and I’ll call you in about an hour.” It was more of an order than a question, and my driver was always very good about doing what I asked him to.

I had a little antique walking stick that I believe was some kind of skewer or cocktail pick that I carried on rare occasions I went for a walk outdoors. I had used it as an impromptu weapon in the past and I knew how to defend myself. People were not a threat to me in an environment like a college campus because I avoided sidewalks, preferring to hike through the hidden miniature forests under the carefully-manicured shrubs. I made my way to my husband’s office, which was a short walk, and slipped in the door of the archeology building when a group of students left.

His door was ajar slightly and the light was on–had he gone to dinner and absentmindedly left things this way, or was he down the hall or in the restroom and returning shortly? No matter–I knew I could easily hide if I heard someone coming. My heart pounded in my ears and I listened intently to every sound from the corridor or outside.

I knew his drawers were on a very easy glide system, since I had given him this desk after we were married. Even I could open them. In addition to the potential peril brought about by common domestic animals, I was also vulnerable to danger in the form of drawers, cabinets, and vases. Everything in my life needed some kind of latch or release on the inside. In theory, I could starve to death in a bathtub and I took measures to make every aspect of my life safer.

I shinned myself up to his chair and desk by way of his wool overcoat. He was right-handed so I opened his top right drawer first, figuring that was where the good stuff might be. I was in the drawer sorting through a stack of receipts that he was overdue to expense when I heard his voice in the hall, low, murmuring. He closed his office door quietly and I heard his feet scuffle. Was he drunk?

Then I heard a feminine laugh, loud and large, and the unmistakable sound of compatibly-sized mouths meeting with a hungry suck and pop that disgusted me from my spy’s nest in the drawer.

“Come here,” he said to her in his low voice, heavy with desire, that I had once heard over the phone.

That was when I heard your voice for the very first time, soft, girlish, with a Texas twang. I don’t remember what you said; it doesn’t matter. I pictured your face at the last cocktail party: soft, eager, eyes bright, turned up to my husband like you were his own baby bird waiting eagerly for your next meal. I guessed he wasn’t going to stick regurgitated worms in your mouth, though.

Suddenly my drawer slammed shut and I lost my balance then as everything went dark. I bit my tongue as I went down and almost cried out. When the desk started rattling, I wish I would have cried out in pain when I had my chance. I suspected that once you were really going at it, you wouldn’t have heard me had I yelled. I waited for it to be over. I told myself that you were a phase, a fling, and that I sat at the true throne in his heart. Fat, hot tears came quickly.

And then when I heard my beloved husband tell you, “Sorry for Everything in Texas,” that he loved your “monstrous vagina,” my heart broke twice. Once was for my marriage and this man I held so dear. The second break was the sound of me realizing, that I! Not even I was special. Like I said, this belief that is the real thing that separates us from the animals–it will be our secret.

P.S. Apology accepted.

3 thoughts on “Advice Wednesdays: February 21, 2002

  1. OK, here’s my thing about your fiction pieces:
    Do they get progressively more surreal, or am I too bad at focusing on anything anymore?
    Is this supposed to be funny? Why am I laughing?
    Is it even fiction? Is it supposed to have that colour, Doctor? Am I insulting you by asking?

  2. I won’t insult you by telling you or anyone not to over think things, but I am just kind of fooling around. Welcome to the inside of my head. I’m glad you think it’s funny.

  3. So you DIDN’T have your house retrofitted with walkways?! Are you LYING? On a BLOG?

    You should be ashamed. Btw, did I already tell you of my latest crazy America-related scheme?

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