I can’t remember the exact moment I fell in love with another man’s wife. The pair of them, along with my own wife and I and several other couples, were social acquaintances for a spell of time in the autumn and early winter of a year too far back for me to name. There were about a dozen of us, all of an age—or, actually, I was slightly older—who found fellowship in the soirees at the local country club. The other men included the president of a local bank; a brash Texan; a hapless man who’d inherited wealth and a title; a foot doctor; all of them, at one time or another, suitors of my wife. They all played golf—never my game—and in the evenings, we would dine and drink martinis and tell the funny stories of our suburban lives.
The woman in question—I shall call her Caroline—was a kind, sweet, pretty woman, whose husband was a very successful attorney, away much of the time. She was the youngest in our group, around thirty-five. It didn’t take me long to discover that her marriage was not a happy one. Her husband was a loud, blustering man, who approached the world as if it were a witness he was determined to get a confession out of.
My wife pointed out to me, fairly early on, how it was between the pair, unsparing in her dismissal of the husband as a boob and his wife as a whey-faced wimp. My wife (call her Lucille, her real name; why spare her in this?) managed an act in public as a loving, supportive woman, devoted to me and fond of other people—but it was an act. In private, no one was spared her ripping, gossipy critiques.
For my part, I reserved judgment on Caroline. One evening, out on the country club patio, overlooking the eighteenth hole, she and I found ourselves apart from the others for the first time. It was late October and the night had the surprisingly mild indian summer air that New England sometimes gets. Orchestra music drifted outside from the ballroom, where couples danced.
And there in the moonlight, Caroline and I had our first honest conversation. She revealed to me the worst of it: her husband was a bullying, nagging man, who moved through her life pillaging it, robbing her of the simple pleasures she took in painting and protecting wild birds. I listened, impressed by her bright intelligence and appalled that she should have to maintain so subservient a role.
But her long-suffering patience struck me. She seemed determined to endure. She said to me, “I envy you. You and Lucille seem to have things figured out.”
“Oh, I don’t think anyone ever really has,” I demurred. “Things can seem to be one way when viewed from the outside, but inside . . . different.” Still, out of some sense of spousal loyalty—and not wanting to shift the focus away from Caroline (she seemed especially in need of tender care) I left it at that.
But she had stirred me. The hidden truth was that Lucille and I were not well suited, and our years together had taken their toll on us both. More and more I felt myself the target of her complaints and criticism, her withering derision of my late nights and spending time in the cellar. Don’t all men putter in their basements, building birdhouses, repairing appliances, tying trout flies, or whatever else it is men do in their man caves? I’d always spent time in mine. Moreover, Lucille complained increasingly about the large old house where we lived, which had been in my family for so long.
Somehow it happened that, on another occasion, Caroline and I had drifted off from the crowd, talking quietly. We probably shouldn’t have; it was the kind of thing that would invite gossip, and yet I knew each of us felt some private excitement in it, a growing frisson. As we stood there at the far edge of the patio, fringed by a screen of hemlock bushes with their tiny white cocktail lights, quietly talking, I leaned down to her mouth and kissed her.
For one frozen instant, she stiffened and grew inert . . . and then her lips joined mine. The kiss lasted little more than a few seconds, but it seemed to seal some unvoiced agreement.
One night that next week, each making a pretext of a trip to the library, we met and sat in my car in the parking lot. Excitedly she described her recently discovered happiness. For the first time, she told me, she had someone who cared for her. Not for her as just a baby-maker or dinner-getter or fixture at parties.
And it was true. I did care for her. It wasn’t just a need. I loved her.
But oh, what they did to her, the townspeople, our circle, when they found out. Taking her away, destroying our happiness.
And what they did to me. The cruelty of those men, led by the hated husband and my own betraying wife, who led them to me. Invading my cellar, my private world, wielding golf clubs and hand tools as weapons, one carrying a sharpened stick. As if they’d ever have been a match for me if Caroline were there. But she was not.
All that was a long time ago. Still, I maintain hope. In some fiber of my being I live for the day when she and I will be together again, when she’ll come to me, revitalizing me with her love. Until then, I lie in dust, waiting, this stake through what used to be my heart.