I was in over my head with The International Man of Mystery, otherwise known as 0040, from the very start. I had some gleam of it at the onset, but of course I ignored it in favor of concentrating on the fact that a very smart, very handsome, very successful man thought I was pretty and smart too.
So I agreed to go on a date with 0040 when he got back in town the next Monday, and spent an entire week primping and obsessing. I wasn’t one to ever get dressed up for work. I always looked neat and professional… and kind of mousy, so I was determined to make a Cinderella style transformation between work that day and when he picked me up for dinner. Having a full week to anticipate seeing someone is not good for a neurotic like me – much planning went into the right dress, the matching shoes, the shade of lipstick, the way I would style my hair – everything had to be perfect.
By the time Monday rolled around, things were at a fever pitch. Between all of my planning and all of the time we spent talking, I did not think I would be able to sit through 8 hours of being in the same room with him at work. I heard nothing of the discussions that went on and instead daydreamed of what his reaction would be when he saw me. Mary had to poke me out of my daze several times and I desperately wanted to tell her that he had noticed her ogling him last week, but obviously couldn’t. At lunch he touched my hand while we were picking our sandwiches from the disgusting company catering and I thought I would faint. When the day finally ended, I grabbed my stuff to prepare to dash back up to my desk, and then to my car to get home as quickly as possible… and walked directly into him as he approached the double desk where Mary and I were sitting.
I could hear Mary’s jaw hitting the floor behind me, but that’s all I heard. I had just run into a brick wall of a man (gosh darn he was muscular) and was about to die of embarrassment as he probably cancelled our date. I know he said something, but my brain was too busy running through how I was going to get through the meetings the rest of the week after his rejection. “I’m sorry.” I said prompting him to say whatever words he had used to let me down easy. “I was just saying I wanted to go over the query options again with you quickly before you go. If you have a minute.” I shook my head yes a little too eagerly and Mary scooted around us, looking back to give me a look as she joined others grouped around chatting. “I’ll see you at 7,” he whispered the moment she was gone, and my heart took flight once again. More furious nodding on my part. “Good,” he said as he turned just in time to begin casually talking to one of his co-workers as if nothing was afoot.
I get home and run around like the crazy person I am trying to get ready. I curse myself for deciding on a black bodycon dress after I smear it with deodorant trying to get it on. I almost burn myself with a curling iron and change my earrings three times like the right pair will somehow make the rest of me look like Scarlett Johansson. When I’m finally ready, I’m not entirely happy with the outcome, but I’ve succeeded in looking completely different from “work me,” so there’s that. I don’t have too much time to fuss over my shortcomings before my doorbell rings and I open the door to 0400 looking incredibly dapper and holding a bottle of wine and a bouquet of flowers.
After inviting him into my tiny apartment I’m embarrassed by it’s lack of finery, but he doesn’t seem to mind. Instead, he’s checking out my picture strewn walls as I put the flowers in water. “Your family?” he asks, pointing to a collage frame containing pictures of me with my parents, brother, and small cousins. I nod, and he smiles, putting his hands in his pockets. I realize this gorgeous man that I have talked to every day for two weeks is now standing in my apartment dressed to the nines still holding a bottle of wine I forgot to take from him and I wonder if I should suggest we just stay here. No. Bad me.
I bridge the distance between us and reach for the bottle of wine to stow it the kitchen before I change my mind about staying, thanking him and saying how he shouldn’t have. But he doesn’t entirely let it go, and so we stand there for a second, both of our hands on the bottle as he looks down at me. He says something about how beautiful I am that I don’t remember clearly now because at the time I’m already imagining being Mrs. 0040, and having little 0040 babies. Somehow the wine gets put away and we leave for dinner.
Dinner goes wonderfully. We have all the chemistry in person that we did over the phone. After some initial laughs about work, we agree on “no shop talk” and focus on finding out even more about each other. Everything he says is legitimately interesting and he seems to be interested in everything as I say just as much. It’s all little too good to be true and that should have been a warning sign.
Outside of my place in his car it’s obvious neither of wants the night to end. We sit talking about work the next day, breaking our own rule, and I know the best thing to do would be to ignore that bottle of wine sitting in my kitchen, say goodnight and leave it at that. I’ve already agreed to see him again. I know I’ll see him at work in the morning. I should let him kiss me goodnight and go inside alone. But I don’t.
At work the next day I’m hungover and exhausted, but happy. The rest of the week is amazing and the floor doesn’t fall out ’til he’s back home and we’re on the phone discussing how we miss each other. He speaks the dreaded, “there’s something I need to tell you,” and my heart stops as I wait for the conclusion to that sentence, to naive still to know what’s coming. He tells me he’s married, but getting a divorce. I listen to him ramble on about how he’s never been in love like this and how he won’t be married much longer and all other sorts of nonsense, dumbfounded. I say nothing until he begs me to. All I can muster is, “I’m hanging up now.” And I do.
That night I cry myself to sleep for being stupid and hopeful and used. He continues to call, but I turn my phone off. I don’t want to hear anything he has to say. He’s done something I deem unforgivable and I won’t give him the chance to convince me otherwise. Until I do.
He continues to call all week, and knowing I’ll have to see him on Monday, I pick up one night to tell him how much I hate him. I want to tell him what a despicable person he is, and how he shouldn’t dare even look in my direction for the rest of this project. I say everything that’s on my mind, and he admits he deserves it, but asks me to listen to his side of things for just a minute. He starts again with how this is different, how he’s getting divorced and then begins to tell me about his first wife who died, and how he didn’t think he could love anyone again like that, and as bad as it feels saying it, this is more. I buy into his sob story. I believe maybe I’m that special to him, and maybe he thought I was in that moment, but it doesn’t matter in the long run.
I say I won’t even consider seeing him again until he shows me proof of a divorce. He tells me these things take time and I say that’s fine because I’m in no rush to spend time with him again. The next few weeks of meetings in the dungeon are true torture. But we continue to talk and he tells me what he’s working on to prove things to me. Little by little, he begins to win me over again.
One night on the phone, 0040 tries to explain why he’s so horrible at emotions and relationships. He tells me that his first wife, Karen, isn’t the only person he’s ever lost and recounts losing a girlfriend in a motor accident when he was younger. He says he has always been afraid to jump in and be present, for fear of losing, and says what happened with Karen only reinforced that. I say I’m sorry he’s been through so much loss, because even though I’m still not completely sure how I feel about him, I do know the weight of loss.
I confide that I’ve lost a very close friend, and then he asks me about Heather. I don’t know why, but I tell him everything about her from how we became friends to her penchant for orange juice out of the carton. It’s the first time I’ve really spoken about her in a while and it’s bittersweet to relive the details. 0400 listens intently and doesn’t tell me I should be more “adjusted” at this point. He doesn’t tell me everything will be ok, or give me religious mumbo jumbo. Instead, he says, “I understand why you hurt.” It’s the most comforting thing anyone who didn’t know her personally has said to me. I tell him so and he tells me, “I love you.” I say “goodnight” and hang up.
But he moves out of his house, against his lawyer’s advice, and gets an apartment to try and show me that he means everything he says. I start to say “I love you” back and begin to travel every other weekend to spend time with him. We buy cheesy furniture from IKEA to go with the few things he took from the house, and sleep on a futon until a mattress is finally delivered. I have drawers in the dresser there and leave a toothbrush in the bathroom. Things seem almost normal and we settle into a routine.
One weekend while staying with him, he tells me he promised his ex he would go to the house and feed her cat while she’s away. I say no big deal, I’ll get ready to go out while he’s gone, but he insists I come with him. He wants to show me the house because he built it, and even though I feel like this is some sketchy territory, I agree to go. We get there and he wants to give me the grand tour. I stand in the foyer begging him to just feed the cat so we can go, but he insists again taking me by the hand and pulling me inside. I feel sick to my stomach. I am in another woman’s house. A home he shared with her. And they’re technically still married. I pretend to listen to him telling me about building the place, while I try to think about anything but what’s happening. And then it hits me.
According to what he’s saying time wise, this is the house he also shared with his first wife. The one she died in – I am standing in the house where his first wife died. I can’t help myself, I have to confirm and ask him if he lived there with Karen. He says yes, and then go over the story again, explaining how he was sitting right downstairs when it happened as he stops in the doorway of the bedroom. It’s still set up as a bedroom, and the next wave of horror hits as I realize he then went on to share the same bedroom with his second wife. That wave hasn’t even completely crashed when the next one catches me off guard.
0040 asks me if I like candles, and begins to tell me how Karen was part of one of those sell at home clubs and had an abundance of candles. He opens a cabinet in the bedroom and takes a few out, asking me if I would like them. If there was ever a moment in my life where I felt like I was about to run, a literal turn around and run for my life, this was it. The realization that I don’t know much about this man, except that his first serious girlfriend died, then his first wife died, kind of suspiciously now that I think about, in this house, and then he married another woman and moved her into this same house, and slept with her in the very same bedroom, and now has brought be here and wants to give me the belongings of the dead wife. I shake my head and back away towards the foyer. He sees something in my face because he puts them back and then follows me out. I resist the urge to reach behind me and open the door. He apologizes if he made me uncomfortable and reaches out to touch me. I flinch without thinking about what I’m doing and he bows his head and he walks off to finally go feed the stupid cat.
The ride back to the apartment is silent. I wonder if they have cabs here and if I could call one to take me to the train. I decide that’s foolish, but lock the door as I take my shower and sit in the bottom of the tub wondering what I’m doing and who I’m doing it with. He knocks on the door and asks me if I’m OK since I’m in there longer than any normal person could possibly take showering, and when I finally open the door he’s standing there with teary eyes. “Did I just break this?” he asks, and the fear in his voice softens whatever is going on inside me. I tell him he just freaked me out a bit, and that I never want to go to that house again. He promises me he’ll never ask me to again and just keeps apologizing. Before I know it he’s kissing me, and the next morning as I wake up with my head on his chest I’m laughing at myself for ever thinking anything was off about him.
And of course was silly of me and it seemed as if nothing short of a mallet to head would be enough of a sign that something was most definitely off with 0400. But the story of how I eventually figured that out is something for another day.