The email came from out of the blue a few months ago. It was from the wife of a man I had been secretly involved with. “How long did your affair with my husband last?” she demanded to know. “I’d like the date range of the years, please.”
I always wondered what she knew, if anything. Why was she confronting me now? I hadn’t communicated with her husband — I’ll call him Mike — in more than five years. We live on separate coasts now.
“The least you can do is respond truthfully, given what you’ve done,” she wrote. Was she accusing me of turning her husband gay? Of breaking up their marriage?
That fiery email may have been written in haste. Still, it was years in the making. I now know that deception has a long life span and often returns to claim its guilt.
I never told anyone about my affair with her husband. Too much at stake. Not so much for me ― I was unattached, and my sexual orientation wasn’t a secret. Mike, on the other hand, was a devoted family man with two kids who I know loved his wife.
He was my next-door neighbor, and I did not seduce him, even though I was 20 years older than he was. I’m certain I was the first man he’d been intimate with, while I had, as they say, been around. Our affair wasn’t a sudden, passion-filled trip to the moon on gossamer wings. It was more like a long train ride. It started slowly and lasted some five years.
Mike wasn’t the only married man I’d been involved with. But the others were one-nighters or friends with benefits ― eager conspirators.
Mike was another story.
We were opposites in many ways: I was a magazine editor. He was a master carpenter. I liked the arts. He liked sports. I splurged on nice clothes and twice-monthly haircuts. He dressed in whatever was handy, usually cut-offs, T-shirts, Birkenstocks and a tool belt.
One night when his wife and kids were away, we went to see a movie about a giant meteor heading for Earth. He told me that he was 16 before he ever saw a movie. He had seen it on the sly because his parents were evangelicals and movies, TV, and pop music were all considered tools of the devil.
What we shared was a passion for the past. One night Mike took me to a fire station that was about to be demolished. We broke in. He wanted me to see what was going to disappear: a cast-iron farmer’s sink, a pulley for hauling ice to the second-floor window. He explained to me the building’s ingenious post and beam construction.
I once showed him a wood inlaid jewelry box that depicted a family playing cards around a kitchen table. My great-grandmother brought it from Germany. “It’s beautiful,” he told me, gently running his fingers over the different woods. “Don’t ever give it away.”
My Victorian flat always needed repair. I had no idea how to install ceiling fans or fix doorbells. Mike did. He once spent a week patiently refinishing the beadboard in my kitchen. He made the century-old wood glisten like new using only sandpaper and baby oil.
We were friends for several years before becoming lovers.
With his wavy black hair, cobalt eyes and droopy eyelashes, Mike had no idea how sexy he was, or could be. Yet his lack of vanity only enhanced his allure. I once stuffed him into my tuxedo when his wife insisted he accompany her to her workplace’s black-tie event. Put a martini in his hand and he could have been James Bond.
Mike would drop by my place after his wife and kids were in bed. We would watch baseball games, make popcorn. Sometimes we’d share a joint, which deepened our enjoyment of “Antiques Roadshow.”
I agreed to let Mike set up his saws and tools in my attic after he told me he couldn’t afford to rent a workshop. That meant seeing him at all hours.
There were signs, some blatant, that he was struggling with his sexuality. Like the time he told me he had gone on a porn site to see how gay men “do it.” He confided to me that when he was in college, he had been attracted to another male student but didn’t act on it.
It usually took a few beers for him to start opening up.
A mutual hug in my attic one afternoon changed everything.