Ari Ch. 03byohio©
I knew I had to plan everything carefully. No screw-ups. If I was lucky enough to get any sort of second chance with Bobby I had to do everything right.
After my first appointment with Jon I spent three weeks taking care of some necessary business. I did some high-powered job hunting and lined up a new position in Columbus within six days. I had to take a 10% salary cut, but that didn't bother me a bit--I still had plenty of money.
I found a place to rent, then flew back to San Diego, gave my two weeks notice, packed up my apartment, said goodbye to friends, arranged for movers to come, then hopped in my car and headed back east again.
And there I was--back in town, less than five weeks after hearing about Bobby's impending divorce, and ready to try to get back into his life.
Jon said to me, "you know, Ari, you seem kind of obsessed about this. I wouldn't be much of a therapist if I didn't wonder about why--why you're so fixated on your ex-husband, why after all these years you still can't let him go."
I considered this for a while in silence. Then I said, "I don't think it's obsession, Jon--I actually think it's just love.
"When I was with Bobby, I felt, I don't know--happy, and secure--really loved. I never had that before in my life.
"During the time I was single and working with Charlie, life was fun and full of adventure--but I never realized how empty it was until Bobby and I were together. I liked the excitement, the travel--I liked the sex with Charlie and once in a while with clients. But it was such a hard-nosed, cold way to live.
"And then I had this wonderful man who loved me and romanced me, looked after me, sat with his arms around me in the evenings and told me he'd always take care of me..." I stopped--to my amazement there were tears on my cheeks.
"I guess I can't say that I'd never find that with someone else, Jon. How can I know? I just know that I had it with Bobby, and then I fucked it up. And if there's any chance at all of getting it back, I'm going to take it.
"When he got married again I tried to deal with it, and I did get on with my life. But I never met anyone half as special, and now that he's getting divorced maybe I have a chance again." I shrugged.
Jon smiled. "Okay," he said. "That may be a little obsessive, but it's not crazy." He laughed and said, "a lot of my colleagues think there's a pretty big overlap between love and obsession anyway, so ... not to worry.
"Now," he said, "we've talked about this a lot--what are the two big things to keep in mind as you try to reconnect with Bobby?"
I thought for a moment. "First is fairness and playing by the rules. Bobby believes in that a lot; I need to show him I can do that too, especially since I broke them so badly the last time.
"Second is ... I guess the second thing is that he's going to test me, probably over and over again."
He clapped his hands. "Exactly. Good for you. We can't prepare in advance for every possible situation, but if you keep those in mind you can be ready for anything he throws at you."
We spent the rest of the session talking about when and how I should approach him. Jon asked whether I was going to call and just casually mention I was back in town.
"Absolutely not. One thing I've figured out is, No Secrets. About anything. Every word I say to him is going to be God's honest truth. So I'll tell him I found out he was getting divorced and moved back in the hopes that we could start seeing one another again."
Jon raised his eyebrows. "Aren't you afraid that might scare him off?"
"Yeah, it might. But I just don't think I should conceal ANYTHING at this point. What if I made it sound like a coincidence, and later on he somehow found out that it wasn't? That would be far worse."
When I called and got his machine I decided to leave a message--that would give him a chance to hear my voice and think about it, have time to decide what he wanted to do.
"Hi Bobby, it's Ari. I heard about your ... situation. I'm so sorry that things didn't work out for you and Laura. I hope you're doing all right. I'm back working in Columbus now—do you think we could we get together for lunch sometime, maybe next week? Here's my number.... Take care, bye."
We met the following Thursday at a Greek diner on the edge of downtown, near where he worked. Bobby looked older, a little beaten-down, but still the same man who wooed me and won me ten years earlier. My knees trembled as I walked towards the table.
I gave him a big smile as he stood and reached out to shake my hand. Ignoring it, I stepped in and gave him a warm hug, letting go far sooner than I wanted to. We sat down and looked at one another.
"Hey," I said, "so great to see you. I am truly sorry about ... things with Laura."
"Yeah, well, that was a bit of a mistake. I guess I--" He stopped and shook his head. "Let's not talk about that, okay? How are you, Ari, what brought you back to Columbus?"
I took a deep breath. "I'm going to be completely honest, okay Bobby? You know that ... well, you certainly used to know that I never got over you, never stopped being sorry for what I did to screw up our marriage.
"And I kept hoping that we could ... that I could somehow make it up to you, prove to you that I'd changed into someone you could love and trust. Anyway, after you married Laura I figured 'that's it, time to accept that it's finally over' and I took that job in San Diego.
"But I have to admit that--" I blushed a little, "that every once in a while I used to call your house, just to hear your voice on the answering machine."
He smiled at that, almost despite himself, and I smiled back.
"Anyway, when I called a few weeks ago and heard that Laura had moved out, I ... looked into it. And when I learned that you were getting divorced--
"I moved back to Columbus and found a new job here. I still love you, Bobby. I would have left you alone forever if you were happily married, but since you're not ... I'm hoping that maybe we could see if ..."
"If I want a second helping of life with a corporate whore?" The words were cruel, but the look on his face was more amused than angry. That gave me a little hope. It HAD been a long time, after all.
Trying to smile I said, "would it be okay if I corrected that to EX-corporate whore?"
He laughed and said, "correction noted."
We ordered some lunch and chatted for awhile, keeping it to safe topics: his work, my work, how I had liked San Diego, did I ever hear from my old boss Charlie? That last one didn't seem so casual, despite how Bobby brought it up. I made clear that Charlie was no longer in my life in any way.
We were having coffee when I said, "not to pry--truly--but how are you, Bobby? Are you okay?" I squeezed his hand.
He sighed. "Yeah, I'm all right. Mostly I'm feeling a little stupid, actually. I could have foreseen this.
"I should never have married Laura. She was just what I needed, for a while. She was sexy and affectionate and crazy about me--and after you and I crashed and burned she made me feel better, like somebody other than a poor dumb cuckold too blind to see what his wife was doing to him."
I grimaced. This isn't going to be easy, I said to myself--and you knew that. Hang in there.
"So she picked me back up off the ground, you know? She cheered me up and bounced on a bed with me whenever I wanted, and told me how terrific I was until I started to feel okay again. And boy did she enjoy rubbing our relationship in your face! Remember the night you came and she was fucking me on the bed?"
I smiled. "It did seem like that was for my benefit--but I remember thinking it wasn't exactly your style."
He blushed. "I felt kind of embarrassed, actually, but Laura convinced me that turnabout was fair play. It really got her off, but for me it was, I don't know, a little bit childish." He shrugged.
"Anyway--Laura's nice, and she loved me, but she's just not that smart or interesting a person. One thing about life with you, Ari, it was never boring. Until the day I--"
He looked right into my eyes. "Until the day I caught you and Charlie I was completely happy. You were bright, beautiful, full of life--just being around you made me feel lucky. I never had much of that with Laura, and once the thrill of a lot of sex wore off, as it inevitably does, there just wasn't anything else there."
We sat some more, and he said, "I guess I was in too much of a hurry--to prove to myself that I was man enough to be happily married and keep a wife. And I picked someone I KNEW wouldn't betray me. I was right about that, at least."
"I guess I'm to blame for your second marriage failing too, Bobby. I am so sorry."
He shook his head and said, "no, I can't pin that one on you too. OUR marriage, hell yes! But with Laura, I should have known better. I should have taken my time. She would have made a perfectly good rebound love-affair, and maybe I'd be happily married to someone else by now."
I said, cautiously, "so it sounds like you're pretty sure this one is over."
"Oh hell yes. I don't hate her, even though she said some pretty nasty stuff to me at the end--yelled it, actually. I feel bad, because I couldn't love her the way she deserves to be loved. She's a nice person, even if she's a bit ...
"Well, to be honest, a bit shallow. But she loved me and gave me her best--I just can't possibly spend my life with her. So we both know we're done. The rest is just paperwork and overpriced lawyers."
He chuckled and said, "I guess I'm about to be a two-time loser."
"The third time's the charm," I said, with a smile. He said, "well, that's what they say, anyway."
We smiled at each other, my heart beating about 200 beats a minute, and he said, "I've gotta get back to work. It was great seeing you, Ari--I had fun."
"Can we have lunch again sometime--is it okay if I call you?"
"Sure," he said. We walked up to the register and paid the check, with a mock-argument about who should pay--we ended up splitting it. And outside the diner he said again, "nice to see you, Ari" and kissed me on the cheek. I watched him walk away, filled with a kind of longing I couldn't possibly put into words. And feeling more hopeful than I had in years.
On purpose I let a couple of weeks go by before I called him again. No need to make him feel I was stalking him, though I obviously was! I got settled into my job, putting in some long days to get on top of things and show my new boss I was competent and organized and trustworthy. I spent a couple of Saturdays getting Felicia to help me shop to decorate my new apartment--it was terrific having my closest friend nearby again. She still thought I was a little nuts to be so hung-up on Bobby, but I think she kind of found it romantic, too.
When I did call him he was happy to make another lunch date, this time at a steak house he really liked, agreeing that we'd split the check again. I told him about my new job, with some amusing stories about eccentric co-workers. He laughed at my favorite one: the guy in the next office who insisted on keeping his coat and his hat and his lunch in his desk drawers, so that all of his important papers were always piled up all over his desk and he could never find anything. Three different times I'd seen him look for something and knock a six-inch pile of documents all over the floor.
Bobby filled me in on his divorce-- he and Laura had agreed on the money issues, all the papers were signed and filed, and he'd be a legally single man again in about four months.
"What about dating? Are you going to dive right back in, or are you thinking you'll wait until it's all legal and official?"
Very seriously he said, "you thinking about us dating again?"
"You know I am, Bobby--I've never pretended anything else. But whether we do, and when, is totally up to you."
He had several bites of his steak, not saying anything, looking thoughtful.
"Well, as to the 'when,' that's easy. My marriage is over, there's no reason to pretend otherwise just because some judge hasn't gotten around to issuing a piece of paper.
"As to the 'you and me,' Ari--that's one hell of a lot harder."
I waited--let him take the lead, I thought to myself. My knees were shaking under the table.
"You have to know I'm still attracted to you, right? You're just as beautiful as ever--maybe more so." He smiled at me. "And you're funny and smart and surprising ... shit, you're all the things you were when I fell in love with you.
"It's just that you blew me up. You set off a big bomb under my life and it nearly fuckin' killed me. Why would I want to step back into the same minefield?"
My throat was so dry it was hard to speak. I said, "because, first--it's not a minefield now. I'm not the same person anymore, Bobby--not the person who could be so blind and selfish and hurt you the way I did. And if you give me a chance I'll prove it to you."
"Yeah?" His voice was challenging but not dismissive. "How the hell are you going to do that?"
"By being honest with you about everything, at every single moment. No secrets, no lies, no subterfuge, no games. Here's what I want: I want you back. Only you, monogamously, faithfully, for the rest of my life.
"And I'll do pretty much whatever you tell me to do, short of ever sleeping with anybody else. Give me a chance, that's all I'm asking."
"Would you quit your job? Would you move to Anchorage with me? Would you stop working and be a housewife, and have six kids with me and raise 'em?"
"Yes, yes, and yes. I'd probably feel a little claustrophobic at home with the children if I never got out into the world again, but I'd find some library volunteer job or something, if you'd let me. Yes, I'd do all that."
He smiled and said, "good thing I don't like the weather in Alaska, then," and we both laughed.
I put my hand on his and I said, "how would it be if we just dated? Went out together a few times, no strings, no pressure?
"I know you don't trust me--why should you? But if we're just dating ..."
We talked about it some more. I could see he was thinking about it, getting more used to the idea. He said, "okay then--but we're taking it slow.
"We'll go out like two single people. Go to the movies, have dinner. Are we exclusive?"
I said, "that's what I want, but it's completely up to you. I'm not going to see anyone else, but if you decide you want to ..."
He said, "I'm going to be straight with you too, Ari. I might want to date other people, but if do I'll tell you I'm doing it."
I was so happy I was afraid I might cry. I smiled at him and said in a serious voice, "but you have to know one thing."
"I'm going to be very, very easy." I caught him in the middle of drinking his beer and he laughed so hard that some of it dribbled out onto his napkin.
"I didn't mean to make you choke!" I said, laughing along with him. He caught his breath and made a menacing gesture with his fist. "I'll get you for that one!" he said, grinning.
When we'd ordered our dessert I said, "so how is this going to work, exactly? Are you going to ask me out, or should I ask you?"
Very seriously he said, "I'm waiting for you to ask me out--that way you have to pay."
It was my turn to laugh, though fortunately there wasn't anything in my mouth. I said, "deal. Okay--want to go for a walk in the park on Saturday afternoon and feed the ducks? I'll pay for the stale bread."
Felicia said, "wait a minute--he WENT for that? You guys went to the freaking PARK?"
"Yes, and it was fantastic!" I was grinning so hard I thought my face might split. We were having a drink in a little restaurant downtown, having a girl's night out together.
"We actually fed the stupid ducks with some old bread I brought along, and then we just sat and talked for a long time. About everything under the sun, nothing heavy. And it got to be about 6:00 o'clock and he said, 'how about if we get some dinner?'
"And I smiled and said, 'sure, Bobby, I'd love to have you buy me dinner.' And he said, 'uh-uh, no way, you asked me out on this date.' And I said, 'yeah, but you're the one who suggested dinner,' and we had this silly mock-argument while we walked over to find a restaurant."
Felicia laughed and said, "and who ended up paying?"
"I did. I said, 'I'll pay, Bobby, but that means you owe me, so you're going to have to ask me out again.' So he pretended to grumble about it, but we're having dinner at his house on Saturday! He said it was so he didn't have to pay for a fancy restaurant dinner, but I think he wants me to see the house. He bought it before he and Laura got married, but I've never seen the inside since they re-did it."
"Although I bet you've driven by it a few times, you stalker!" Felicia loved teasing me, and since I was so happy I didn't mind it a bit. As we finished our drinks she said, "and what about the rest of the story? The good-night fuck, or wasn't there one?"
I sighed. "No, just some good-night kisses, but they were fantastic. I felt like I was back in 10th grade again, when you know you're not going to have sex but you're so turned-on by a boy you're just going crazy.
"He took me to my apartment and I asked him in, but he said he just wasn't ready for that yet. But when he kissed me goodnight I made sure that the first kiss turned into a few more ...."
"Wipe that dreamy look off your face, girl," Felicia laughed at me. "My friend the 33-year old schoolgirl--what am I going to do with you?"
"If this is a dream, then I hope I never wake up!" I trilled, batting my eyelashes, and we collapsed together, laughing helplessly.
Jon smiled. "So it's going well, then."
"Unbelievable!" I sounded like a little kid but I couldn't help myself. "The first real date was terrific, but Saturday night was more than I could ever have hoped for.
"When he showed me around the house I could tell he really wanted to know what I thought. I asked him if it was weird, or sad, living there without Laura, and he said it didn't bother him much.
"He said, 'I was the one who picked it out, back when I was single, and I made most of the re-decorating decisions--so it feels more like my house than hers and mine. I think I'm going to keep it.'
"So of course I told him how beautiful it was and how much I liked what he'd done with it—it really is a very attractive place. And he made us a very good dinner. He's either become a much better cook or he was trying to impress me, but in either case it was great.
"And the sex ... oh my God it was fabulous." I giggled.
"Sorry, Jon, but ..."
"But you've been waiting nearly four years to be back in his bed, and it lived up to your hopes."
I grinned. "In almost every way. I kept refilling his wine glass, and about the third time he caught me at it and said, 'you think I'm going to be that easy?"
"And I said, 'I'm the one who's going to be easy, I already told you that--all you have to do is lift a finger.'
"So he just looked at me, across the table, and then he slowly lifted up one finger. And I stood up and grabbed his hand and said, 'I know you gave me the tour, Bobby, but I can't really remember what the bedroom looks like--I need to see it again.'
"I've had a lot of sex in my life, fucked a lot of guys. But making love with Bobby, after so long--after thinking I'd never get the chance again--
"All I can say is, it was incredible. And I cried afterwards and he was really nice about it. Didn't freak out, just held me and kissed my hair and told me it was all right.
"The second time was even better. The only thing wrong with the night was how it ended. He said he just wasn't ready for us to spend the night together. I was lying in his arms, sleepy and SO happy, maybe about 1 am, and he said he was going to take me home.