When I thought about cheating, I always saw the lewd, despicable acts - the husband tearing his family apart, the wife falling for a good line and destroying her family's unity just for a romp in the hay; the 'other woman' not caring about what she was doing to a 'nice' home. I, definitely, never thought it would happen to me or imagined what it could do to my life. It all started pretty innocently, that Monday morning at work, when I overheard two of my colleagues, Brian and Lisa, talking about what they had done over the weekend.
It wasn't even an important conversation, not something enlightening for anyone who might overhear, but it hit me like a ton of bricks - there I was, forty years old, married to a wonderful man with two great kids and suddenly I felt empty and alone.
I know that people at work called me the 'Ice Queen' behind my back as I'd never attended any social functions and gatherings that the company implemented for its employees. I learned quickly enough not to fraternize with the employees when I started working at Replicator Media Network. Not even half a day in the place and I was hearing all sorts of rumours about the director of HR choosing the secretaries based on their 'performance' instead of their qualifications. I vowed it wouldn't be something anyone could say about me and, anyway, I was happily married and didn't have any interest in destroying my marriage just for a quick 'fix'. My needs were well taken care of at home.
I always said it was a waste of time and money to have all those social meetings between colleagues. Wasn't it enough that we had to take clients out and entertain them when they came to town? I knew for me it was - I certainly did not need to party with my colleagues when the working day was over - or at least I thought so until that fateful Monday morning.
Brian and Lisa were telling Suzie, my secretary, she had missed a great evening the previous Saturday when she had cancelled on their plans to all go to that new club that had just opened in town. Apparently, anyone who was 'somebody' was there and they had made some pretty interesting new contacts. It was nothing to make the world shake, but nonetheless, it made me realize that, for the past year, I hadn't been invited once to go with them — not that I would have gone, mind you — but not being invited was akin to being invisible and it's unthinkable for the VP of Public Relations for RMN.
I invited Suzie for lunch instead of eating alone. It wasn't a big thing. Once or twice a year we went to lunch together — that's how I learned of all the rumours going around. Those lunches always left me with a sour taste in the mouth as I'm not one for gossiping but it was my only way of knowing what others were saying behind my back.
Suzie is a sweet girl but she's not the brightest person on earth; if I wanted to I could have influenced her not to fraternize with the others, but then I'd lose my 'foot in the door'. I didn't like manipulating her that way, but you don't get to be where I am in life by being squeamish about that sort of thing.
We went to that bistro around the block from the office and, once again, Suzie was surprised at how efficient the waiting staff was when I was there. She told me it always took some time for them to seat her when she came with her friends, whereas as soon as we arrived, we got a table without delay.
I wanted to plant in her mind the thought that it would be a good idea to invite me next time the office had a get-together; I had to tread lightly here as I knew it would be a tough sale. With me always refusing the previous invitations, it was easy to see they had given up on inviting me. So, what would be the reason for them to try inviting me again now?
While we ate, the conversation stayed focused on work; Suzie knew enough not to ask questions about my private life. That made it even harder, as I had to be the one to bring up the fact that I was being left alone more and more while my husband, Jeremy, was working — nothing new there as, since we'd been married, twenty years ago, he'd always been gone weeks at a time to settle his accounts all over the world while I was raising the kids and earning my degrees. Of course, we both knew it would be hard at time, that we would miss each other but our commitment was stronger and healthier than being separated a few weeks each time he had to go.
When we were together the world ceased to exist. We were living in our world and nothing could disturb us, but I really thought that now that the children were all grown, we could enjoy each other's presence more. Jeremy didn't seem to think so, though, as he had signed another contract, putting him in charge of negotiations all over the world for another 5 years.
Now, I had to tell Suzie that it was bothering me and that I was lonely so she would talk about it at work and start the ball rolling about getting me invited to go with them next time they went out to town.
Why couldn't I just go with them when I heard they were going out? Well, it's unfortunate, but in management one can't always be one of the guys. Who knows, one day there may have been a need to fire someone. The occasional after work drink was okay but alas, I seemed to have given the impression I was above such things and the invitations stopped coming.
It was my own fault; I should have made more effort to fit in at the beginning. They probably thought I believed that we weren't in the same league; that they could not simply come waltzing through my office; sit on the corner of the desk and gossip.
Did I really come off as so superior?
The gossip that circulated indicated that the 'Ice Queen' thought that everyone was beneath her, and she made sure people knew their place as soon as they started working for her. It was hard for me to reconcile their image of me with who I really was.
Old habits die hard, and it seemed too late to start making friends with some of them even if I wanted to.
The maid knocking at the door interrupted my thoughts for a minute. She quickly did the room and I went back to commiserating with myself; remembering the conversation I had with Suzie on the day that started my downfall.
While nibbling on a salad I looked the lonely wife who's missing her husband and needed a friend to talk to. I was pleased to see that Suzie understood when she put her fork on the table and said in a meek voice, "J.C., something seems to be troubling you. I don't mean to pry, but maybe you need to talk to someone. I know we're not really friends or anything but... I mean... I can listen, you know"
"Thanks Suzie, it's sweet of you but I don't want to bother you. We came here to have lunch together, not for you to hear about my marital difficulties." Yes I needed to talk to someone, but it was still hard to admit to myself I wasn't as self sufficient as I had always prided myself to be.
"You're not bothering me. I've been working with you for how long now, 7-8 years? Did you know that this is the first time you've called me Suzie, like everybody else, and not Suzanne? You're the only person who's never called me Suzie. And now that you did, I know that something is wrong, so please, let me help you if I can."
I remember she looked sheepish to have spoken up that way to me and I could tell she wasn't sure of the reaction I would have.
"Looks like you know me well," I sighed. "Better than I thought. I'm sorry; I never noticed that I wasn't calling you Suzie. For me, when I think of you; you're Suzie, not Suzanne. But you're right, I need to talk, but I cannot; not to you! I don't want my private life to make the rounds of the building and I know you are friends with some of the most notorious gossipers." I could see the wheels turning in her mind with that last part. Mentioning gossips and my private life in the same sentence was sure to raise the interest level a notch.
"What If I promised not to say anything to anyone J.C., would it... ?"
"It's not just that, Suzie. Look at us. You don't even use my name to talk to me and you want me to tell you about my life? You want me to tell you how unhappy I am and how miserable I feel? It doesn't make sense! You don't even know what my name is, do you?" That was another consequence of my lack of effort at the beginning - everybody called me J.C., nobody used my name. I never thought that some people could perceive not using my name as standoffish.
She looked at me defensively, "How could I use your name, nobody does! Maybe the people in payroll know it but they've never said it to anyone. Everybody calls you J.C., I just think myself lucky that you allow me to call you that too. Being only your secretary you could have told me to call you Mrs Collinsworth but you didn't. From the first day I started working for you you've been nice and friendly to me, I just want to repay that kindness now."
Had I really been nice to Suzie or was she just seeing the good in anyone she came across? I don't remember doing anything particular for her and having her call me J.C. like everyone else just put her on the same level as everybody else.
"My name is Joanna, Suzie. Joanna Claudine Collinsworth. My friends call me Joanna. J.C. comes from the time I started working at RMN. I was fresh out of school and I didn't have any business cards. When I sent my resume I affixed one of my husband's to the resume since we have the same initials. His name is Jeremy Christian Collinsworth and his cards read J.C. Collinsworth."
.... There is more of this story ...