East of Eden
The Devil’s name was “Vanity.” And my wife was far too easily seduced.
All her life Heather had been cute, but a little chubby. So, after the kids left home she started exercising. It was just to kill time at first. Then things changed – drastically! The more she worked out, the shapelier she got. Her body became her obsession. And she was reborn a goddess.
That was when the flirting began. For the first twenty-two years of our marriage, we were a companionable and loving couple. We stood together at social events. We danced with each other at parties. Now, there was such a wide disparity, between my smoking-hot wife and her out of shape, middle-aged husband, that we went in opposite directions.
Heather had her pick of attractive men. It was never just one guy. She talked and danced with ALL of them. At the same time, she rarely graced her former friends with her presence. The friends went from being insulted, to cutting me pitying looks.
But seriously - what could I do? Her behavior wasn’t overtly disloyal. She might dance with guys who were younger, fitter and more attractive than me. But there was never any real romance. She just looked like she was having fun. Needless to say, she was also happier than I ever remembered.
I was willing to ride it out. I had heard of middle-aged-crazy. And I hoped that this too would soon pass. Nonetheless, it eventually became clear that Heather’s newfound empowerment had changed her in fundamental ways. First there was the narcissism. Heather couldn’t stop looking at herself – and playing with her body. Then there was the ego. She was a trophy now, and she knew it. She just radiated, “I can get any man I want.”
Notwithstanding the serious disrespect that showed me, the other wives hated her. Heather didn’t deign to notice
Heather’s sudden, dramatic trip off the rails was easy to understand. One moment she was an average American housewife. The next, she was an object of lust for a pack of alpha-males. The radical transition from homemaker to love goddess would skew anybody’s perception of themselves vis-à-vis the world. All the same, this new reality started to impact her decision making. And that invited the Serpent into the Garden.
She appeared downstairs one auspicious Friday morning. I was enjoying a breakfast bagel. Her hair was tousled and she was wearing her ratty old robe. She got a cup of coffee and sat down opposite me. I recognized the stubborn look. I thought, “Oh-oh!!! This can’t be good!!” She said, “Tom, there is something I need to talk to you about.” Those words are not anything that a husband wants to hear. So I put my bagel down and looked attentive.
She said, “I have never had my own identity. I have always been Tommy Jr. and Suzie’s mom and your wife. But now, I have transformed myself I am my own woman.” She stopped and waited for the obvious question. I said, “And exactly what does THAT mean?”
She said, “I was a wallflower when we met. I had boyfriends. But I was just middling. In fact, I think it was our mutual lack of personal charisma that made us so compatible. And we have led an utterly unremarkable life for the past twenty-two years.”
She stood up and opened her robe. She was naked underneath. Her toned thighs, tight flanks, hard stomach, and big firm tits were extraordinary. She ran her hands down her superb body and said with pride, “I’m not a wallflower anymore.” She closed her robe and sat down again.
She looked at me like she was willing me to understand. She said, “Men hit on me all the time. I ignore them because I love you. But one special man has offered to take me to an extraordinary place.” She paused, dropped her head and said in a whisper, “And God forgive me, but I am going to take him up on his offer.”
I had already guessed where this conversation was headed. And I was angry. But I put a lid on my temper and said, “So what does THAT mean?” She looked at me pleadingly and said, “You don’t know him. We met at the club. And since then we have had several lunches together. During that time, he has been a perfect gentleman.”
I said bitterly, “Meaning he hasn’t tried to fuck you yet.” She looked disgusted and said, “There is no need to be vulgar. It isn’t like that. He’s older and very rich and worldly. All he wants is my companionship.” I looked incredulous. So she quickly added, “He asked me to accompany him to Paris next week. And I am going to go with him. It would just be this one time. He’s married.”
I said, “Let me get this straight. You know that he’s married. And perhaps you’ll recall that you’re married too? Isn’t that the textbook definition of adultery?” She looked exasperated and said, “It isn’t like that. I am only going to be with him on this single occasion. It’s a once in a lifetime chance. After that I will be yours forever. And I will make it up to you. You’ll see.”
She added earnestly, “But I have to have one, extraordinary memory to paste in my scrapbook - before time takes this away from me.” And she gestured down her body again. Her tone told me that she had been obsessing about aging. I said, “That’s bullshit Heather. This guy isn’t a gentleman and what he’s proposing isn’t romantic. All he wants to do is fuck you. And all YOU are going to get out of this are some great orgasms and a few souvenirs of Paris.” I stopped and added, trying to sound more resolute than I felt, “Because I won’t be around when you return.”
She looked scornful and said, “Don’t say that Tom. You love me. I know you do. And you will let me do this because we love each other. It isn’t like I am sneaking behind your back. Just let me have this one starry-eyed fling and you will never regret it.”
She was wrong. I already regretted it. I took her left hand in both of mine and played meaningfully with her wedding ring. I said with sincerity, “I love you. Counting the courtship, we have had twenty-four fantastic years together. And we have two wonderful kids. So all I can do is beg you. Please don’t do this.”
She looked sad and said, “I will always love you Tom. And we are going to grow old together spoiling our grandchildren. But I am leaving for Paris on Monday.” That shot a thunderbolt of pure angst through me. I said imploringly, “Is there any way I can talk you out of this?” She gave me the kind of patronizing look that a mother might give a naïve child and said with resolve, “It IS going to happen. The arrangements have already been made.”
I stood up without another word and walked out the front door. She called “Tommmm.” It was the same whiny tone that teenagers use when a parent is being unreasonable. I kept going. I drove to the county park. I am not a crier. But my stomach was doing flip-flops. I opened the car door and deposited the bagel in the parking lot. I wiped my mouth and sat there looking across the same green lawn that I had watched my kids play on eons ago.
You never think it will happen to you. So you never have a plan.
I considered my situation. I had nowhere to go. Where would I stay? I make decent money. But with two kids in college and an upper middle class lifestyle, we barely scrape by. We had very little savings and our credit cards were close to maxed. I have no family, no close friends. In short it was either remain in the house, or sleep in the car.
Heather knew our financial situation. I think that was one of the reasons why she was so sure that she could pull-off this little stunt. Hopelessness, alienation and a sense of utter loneliness descended on me like a cloud of mustard gas. I said to myself, “I invested my emotional life in this woman. And now she is holding me for ransom???!!!”
That realization brought me back from the brink, and stiffened my spine. I am not a person who will gracefully accept victimhood. And I am decisive in my business dealings. So if Heather could make unilateral decisions, I could too. But first I wanted to get some free legal advice.
I called Jim Edgerton. He is a friend and a lawyer. I said, “Jim! Tommy Meissner here.” There was a short pause. He said, “What’s up Tom?” I laughed and said, “I was calling to see if you knew a good lawyer?” He said, “Need divorce advice?” It was a statement, not a question. I said, “It sounds like you expected this.” Jim said, “Regrettably yes ... Heather has been seen around town with Charlie Wilkins. You know him.”
Of course I knew him. Everybody in town knew HIM. He was CEO at the area’s main employer. He was sixtyish, tall, distinguished, a pillar of the community and a well-known dirty old man. His wife was Maeve Wilkins. Her blessing made your reputation. And her disapproval turned you into a social pariah. I thought to myself, “Heather, what have you gotten yourself into?”
The house was empty when I arrived home. Heather was either at the club, or having “lunch.” I assumed that it was still JUST lunch. Wilkins was far too visible for an afternoon-delight. That was the whole point of the Paris trip. She was already starting to pack. The nighties and sexy underthings were a revelation. I had never seen anything like THAT before. It cemented the reality. I had to sit down for a second.
I was pretending to read a book when she breezed in. She was stunning in her fancy work-out gear. I would probably look that good too, if corporate America didn’t keep me chained to a desk for forty hours a week. She walked toward the stairs, humming a happy little ditty. Then she saw me. She looked delighted. She came over, stood in front of me and said, “Let me get a shower and you can join me.”
.... There is more of this story ...