I felt like I was gasping for air, but in reality my breathing was normal. How could he invite me to his house in such a nonchalant way? This was infuriating! Apparently I was the only one who really knew what was going on between us because it was clear he was clueless.
Then it hit me. I was reminded, to him, I am a friend. Nothing more, nothing less. Ugh. That breathing thing again.
I told him I would think about it and let him know later in the day. He sat across from me and looked at me in silence. He knew something was wrong. He knew I was holding back and wasn’t telling him something. Damn it that we knew each other so well! He asked me again if I was okay, and I was screaming in my head: I am not okay! I have feelings for a married man who doesn’t make friends with people, who isn’t social, who doesn’t connect with people, yet he does all of that with me! Not only does he do all of that with me, but he initiates all of that with me! I quieted my raised voice in my head and whispered it was a busy day and that was all. He hesitantly stood up to leave and stopped himself. He looked at me. I knew he knew something was going on. He can read me so well. He told me if I needed anything, he was there for me. I said thank you, and then watched him turn and walk out of my office.
I had memorized what he looked like when he burst into my office with such energy and excitement, just like I had memorized how light he is on his feet as he walked out of my office. That day, was no different. I could feel the pressure building behind my eyes. Damn it! I am not going to cry at work! Why am I crying? This whole talking to and yelling at myself was happening frequently! I was crying because I knew either way this turned out, I am the one who is getting screwed here. Figuratively, not literally. Maybe if it were literally, all of this would be easier! Who I am kidding, that would make it even more complicated! If he did have feelings for me like it felt like he did, it didn’t matter because he was married. If we were just friends, then we needed to go backwards a bit and act like friends, which screws me again because I lose a lot of the interaction I love.
Through many conversations with myself, by the end of the day I convinced myself this entire thing was my fault and my issue. I was the one who had taken it too far in my head. He considered me a friend, nothing more and nothing less. The stories we tell ourselves when we lack confidence and worth are unbelievable. I decided since we were just friends, there would be absolutely no reason I should not be able to go see his new house and watch a movie. I picked up my phone, started a new message and let him know it was on, I would come see his new house.
That evening I found myself getting ready as I did anytime I hung out with him, but this time I was more critical of why I was doing certain things. Before, when I was going with him or would be seeing him, I realized I put more effort into what I was wearing, how my make-up and hair looked. I didn’t need to do that anymore. We are friends. We are friends. We are just friends. I played it over and over and over in my head.
I got in my car and drove the seven or so minutes to his house. My heart was pounding the entire way. I kept telling myself it wasn’t a big deal because we were friends, and even though his wife was out of town, she had to know I was coming over and she had to be okay with it. I told myself I am the only one with an issue here and I need to stop it. I slowly brought my car to a stop outside of his house and I got out. As I walked up to his doorstep, I had to concentrate on breathing. I was nervous.
Then another realization hit. The reason I was in the situation I was in was because of HER. His wife. Clearly they were not as emotionally connected and he wasn’t feeling fulfilled, so he began looking elsewhere. This is HER fault. I wasn’t prepared for these thoughts and feelings, but they continued. He chose to engage with me because she wasn’t engaging with him and I did not want to be amongst HER things. I didn’t want to be in HER house. I didn’t want to see any pictures with HER in them. I wanted nothing to do with HER. I wasn’t friends with HER. Prior to this moment, she wasn’t my concern and although she was still living in another state and wouldn’t be there, she somehow became my concern in that moment. On one hand, I am sure it was my guilt. Her husband had been interacting with me for months as if we were more than friends. I had been interacting with her husband for months as if we were more than friends. On the other hand, when he and I were together, it was just us and I wasn’t responsible for his relationship status. It was our connection that mattered. She didn’t ever enter into my thoughts and here I was, at the doorstep of their house, faced with the reality of going into his house that he shared with his wife. What in God’s name am I doing?
I slowly reached out and rang the doorbell. I could hear the dog barking and it got louder as the dog raced to the door. I heard Alex’s voice through the door yelling at the dog to stop barking. That voice. The voice that spent hours and hours and hours on the phone with me. I could hear the pounding of my heart. The door opened a bit, and there he was. He was wearing his after work uniform, as I called it. Khaki cargo shorts, white t-shirt and green Reef flip flops. He looked like he was five years old, but it was endearing. Although I couldn’t understand how a woman could let such a nice looking man dress this way! I knew he didn’t like clothes shopping, but come on! I snapped my head back into the moment and while I looked at him I immediately felt at ease. He always had this look on his face of warmth and openness when he saw me. In this moment I longed for him to be a hugger. I needed a hug so desperately. I wanted him to wrap his arms around me and tell me I am not crazy, he has feelings for me, too and the time we have spent is not wasted. Instead, we said our hello and he let me in.
The dog was adorable. I had heard so many stories about this dog, so it was kind of like getting to experience something in real life he had talked about so often. I leaned down and petted him. As we stood in the entry way, Alex quickly started giving me a tour. To the right, the living room. It was small with a long sofa facing us, and a love seat facing the window. Ugh. An overstuffed purple couch with a corduroy like pattern in it, with pillows along the back in some sort of floral pattern and fringe along the edges. The couch and love seat overpowered the small living room. Her taste in furniture is dreadful. Made me dislike her even more. Not only could she not keep her man happy, she couldn’t decorate for shit. To the left was the dining room. The room was about the same size as the living room and had a table in the middle of the room that could seat six. Ugh again. I remember him telling me she was in a rush to buy a dining room table because they didn’t have one in their previous home and she didn’t want the room empty. The haste in picking out the table was clear. Looks like she had visited the nearby discount furniture store to buy the first dining room table she came across. Her taste is so cookie cutter, lacking personality. We moved forward in the entry and on the left was a broad staircase leading upstairs. As we stood in front of the stairs, he pointed off in the opposite direction and said that’s where the office was. Then he turned and pointed towards upstairs. I cringed. Please don’t make me go upstairs. Please don’t make me go upstairs. Thank you God, he is not taking me upstairs. The last thing I want to see is where he sleeps with HER. We made our way into the family room, which seemed perfectly square with a ceiling two stories high. The kitchen was right off the family room. The cabinets lined the walls in a U shape, with a center square island with a built-in stove top. Between the island and the wall to the family room was a small, round kitchen table. What is it with the discount furniture store purchases? This table looked like it was $299 and almost looked like fake wood. Oh crap. Never mind, I remember that story.
One night, in one of our many conversations, Alex shared a story of when his mother was the den leader in Cub Scouts. The boys had been over for the weekly activity and one of the kids wasn’t the brightest of kids and decided to do something to the table. To be honest, I can’t remember what the kid did to the table because the moral of the story was about his mom being a den leader and he just thought that was ridiculous. At the end of the story, however, he shared that he had that kitchen table in his own house now. That made sense. It did look quite old, but I can appreciate the sentimental value.
Then, something hanging on the wall between the kitchen and family room caught my eye. I squinted. Were those chickens? Oh. My. God. She has chickens hanging on the wall in her kitchen? Is she 85 years old? Her kitchen was adorned with random items that I think once found a home in my late grandmother’s kitchen. I couldn’t believe this woman was younger than me because her taste in furnishings was not that of a late twenty something year old.
As I began to walk back into the family room, I guess the second time in a room makes other things become obvious and I suddenly realized everywhere I looked were candles. What in the hell is up with all of the candles? None of them had been lit. My eyes found their way to the candles on the mantle, but then I was quickly distracted with the art above the fireplace. I guess I would call that art. I don’t know what the technical term is for a print on canvas that you purchase at Target. Not to mention the content on the print was random and just didn’t fit. Oh, wait. I know what that is. That “art” was the outcome of a desperate trip to Target when the sole reason to go was to find something to hang above the fireplace and they couldn’t leave without, well, anything, I suppose. I was on sensory overload. I knew I was being petty, but I just didn’t care. I was confused. This house was huge for two people and a dog. The decorations lacked character, personality and a theme. The house didn’t have an identity, just like he didn’t know what his identity was. Who were these people? It’s like they were trying to portray this life that didn’t quite fit. I didn’t know it then, but now thinking back at my impressions of the home, it all makes sense. I guess I should have felt bad for being so judgmental, but the truth is, I wasn’t in the mood to feel anything other than compassion for myself. Okay, I’ll be honest, I felt sorry for myself.
I was still in the family room and I just wanted to sit. I knew Alex well enough to know he had a specific place he sat on the couch, so I asked him where I could sit before I sat down. He told me I could sit anywhere. I looked at him, rolled my eyes, then asked him where he sits. He pointed to the spot directly in front of the TV. I sat on the section of the couch at the bottom of the L shape. I was so relieved when the dog jumped up on the couch and wanted to be petted. It was a great distraction.
Alex was nervous. His nervous energy made me feel nervous. He told me he hadn’t had time to stop at the grocery store, so he asked if it would be okay to order pizza. I was fine with that. I could feel myself being distant. I wasn’t my normal warm self to him. I knew he could tell.
My brain took over again. Does she know I am here? Is she okay with me being here? Is it okay for a single woman to be at the house of a married man with no one else home? My mind surged. We had small talk about the day and chatted about the movie we would watch, while waiting for the pizza. I looked around the room and my level of feeling uncomfortable just continued to grow. I was trying to focus on our friendship and what friends do. I couldn’t focus on that. It was so wrong for me to be there. We’re friends. Just friends.
I warmed up a bit as we were talking because our conversations always took me to a place where I felt naturally comfortable. We talked about all the things we normally talked about. We ate pizza. He put in the movie, another one of his favorites. He was so excited to see if I would like it. The Big Lebowski. Yes, it’s sad, but I had never seen it before this time. Throughout the movie, I felt him watching me to see if I was laughing. I could feel how badly he wanted me to love his favorite movie! This movie was actually funny and I was relieved because it allowed me to take a vacation from feeling sorry for myself and despising his wife.
After the movie was over, I told him I loved it and he was thrilled. Then this anxious feeling hit. All I wanted to do was get out of there. Without a movie distracting me, I was surrounded by HER again. Get. Me. Out. Of. Here. I got up to leave and told him I had a good time and I liked his house. We made our way to the front door and after the misery of being in their house had provided me, I just wished he would hug me. Damn it I hate when people are not huggers! We said our goodbyes and he waited in the doorway until I was in my car and started to drive away.
As I was driving home, I couldn’t believe I had been in his house. I couldn’t believe I had been in his house late at night, alone. This felt so wrong to me. But, I had done it anyway. I confirmed to myself, however, we are friends. We are really just friends. Nothing less, and nothing more. I didn’t need to make this more complicated than it was; we were friends. Even though he acted completely different with me than the way he described himself in general, I wasn’t in a place to determine what his intentions were, I could only go by what he said. He didn’t get close to people, he didn’t become friends with his coworkers, and the list went on and on in my head.