I was brand new to Salt Lake City. I’d finally escaped the Mormon bubble and was puffed with pride over my bona fide college student status. I answered an ad in the classifieds and nabbed employment as a nanny (rich folk term for babysitter) of a cherubic-faced 2-year-old.
Her father, Ryan*, was definitely older; he was 40 and I was 19. He was also definitely married. With children.
It began innocently enough. After babysitting for the family for a few months, Ryan approached me with an offer. He owned a company and was in need of a “file girl” who could hang around the office for a couple of hours every afternoon. Ryan agreed to pay me under the table and I accepted. I could babysit my beloved 2-year-old in the morning, attend college classes in the afternoon, then head to the office.
At the time, my boyfriend, Cody, was in the thick of pledging a fraternity. I found the whole Greek fraternity/sorority scene distasteful at best. When you’ve lived on your own since the age of 16, a bunch of 18-year-old hooligans drunkenly jumping off balconies celebrating the fact they no longer live at home is not exciting, it’s annoying.
On the flip side, the dashing, handsome millionaire who drove a Jaguar, dined at all the top restaurants in Salt Lake City, and entertained the notion of a career in politics appeared, to me, a king among men. Oh, and not to mention, he was also an excellent father.
My crush on him grew. I created excuses to chat with him in his office and I began to look forward to evening babysitting hours because I’d get to see his good fathering in action.
But I was young. I never thought a man as old as my dad would be interested in me. I never thought I’d end up dating a married man, having an affair, or the fallout of my actions.
So the night Ryan let his hand linger on my arm after walking me to my car left me reeling. I drove home with a pack of rabid butterflies banging around my stomach. I debated what Ryan meant with the lingering hand. Was it intentional? Maybe he didn’t realize he’d done it. After a restless night of sleep, I wrote off the lengthy squeeze as the imaginations of a goofy teenager with a crush.
Life continued in its usual doddering fashion until the night a group of co-workers from Ryan’s office invited me out for drinks at the bar next door. Even though I was underage, I went. Pool was played, darts were thrown and, unfortunately, Jagermeister was ingested. One by one, my co-workers began filtering out the door and Ryan and I were left sitting there alone, together.
Suddenly, I knew. It knifed through me in a revelation as agonizing as if it were actually a jagged blade. He wanted me. I could smell it on him more strongly than the expensive cologne he was wearing. I could see it in his eyes, feel it in his gestures, hear it in the slight waver of his usually confident voice.
He was nervous! I was shocked and terrified. This wasn’t supposed to happen.
After several minutes that ticked by slower than the mini-eternities I spent in my algebra class, Ryan reached across the table, took my face in his delicately masculine hands, pulled me gently toward him, and said, “I think I’m falling in love with you.”
And then he kissed me.
The excuses came early and often:
Our marriage has been over for a long time.
My wife is still in love with her high school boyfriend and she thinks I don’t know.
I’m getting a divorce but I’ve got to do it right. And that takes time.
So I stayed. I stayed through painful months of having to babysit his children as he went to ritzy soirees with his wife. I stayed through a year of meeting in darkened movie theater parking lots two towns away from ours, while all the rest my friends were out partying.
Two years later, I was pushing 23 and still pushing for my “boyfriend” to get a divorce. Ryan had moved out of his family home and he and his wife were officially separated, but there was no divorce on the horizon. I couldn’t see it even if I shaded my eyes from the sun and squinted really hard.
“If you want to be married just tell me,” I pleaded.
“I don’t! It just takes time. I don’t want my children to get hurt,” he’d respond. When I threatened to leave, he’d shout, “But I’m 40, I’ve been married twice and I’ve never been in love until now. You CAN’T leave me!”
And then, suddenly, I realized: I was that girl. The girl that goes on dating a married man and thinks he’s going to divorce his wife for her. I could feel the scorn of friends who were privy to the situation. While they giggled about cute boys and bar makeouts, I remained conspicuously quiet.
My family was aware of the scandalous situation so I shunned holiday gatherings out of shame. I felt like a dirty homewrecker even though Ryan continually assured me his marriage was long over before I came along.
But I stayed. For three more years.
It was a blustery evening in early December when my cell phone rang. The flashing green screen indicated it was Ryan.
“Hello?” I said. No response. “HELLO?” I shouted impatiently. I was ready to slap the phone closed when I heard Ryan’s voice. Only, he wasn’t talking to me. “When Jenna arrives tell her I’m in the restroom,” his faraway voice said.
All the blood in my body rushed to my head and I nearly dropped the phone.
Jenna was Ryan’s wife. Facts began to pelt my brain like hail on a windowpane. It’s Friday night and he was meeting his wife at a restaurant. His wife! Still! What the hell had I been thinking for the past three years of my life?
My marveling quickly transformed into anger. I wondered if I’d truly been a sucker, naively carrying on a relationship with a man who had no intention of leaving his wife. Maybe I was just the most recent in a long string of women who had supplied Ryan with whatever it was he got out of these extramarital activities. My rage exploded out of my mouth like bullets from a machine gun.
“Ryyyannn!” I screamed into the phone. “Ryan! Ryan!” I was out of control, sobbing his name into the phone until he heard me.
“Monica? Did you just call me?”
“WHAT THE F*** IS GOING ON?”
“What do you mean?” he replied shakily.
“I heard you. I HEARD YOU. You’re there with Jenna. Where are you?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Bulls***! I heard you. You can’t talk yourself out of this one. Your stupid cell phone called me. I heard you tell someone to tell Jenna you’d be right back.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about!” He snapped defensively. “I’m meeting her dad to discuss our taxes.”
“What? Her dad? What are you meeting him for? You are such a liar!” Despite the close proximity of the neighbors in my small apartment building, I was screaming so loud it felt like my throat was tearing.
“You’re being ridiculous. I’m meeting her dad to talk about our taxes and she’s coming with him.” Something in his guarded tone set off warning bells.
“If that were really the case, you’d be horrified that I accidentally overheard and you’d be apologizing right now. Instead, you’re acting defensive. That tells me you’re guilty, you f***er.”
“You’re overreacting. I’ll speak to you later.”
“If the meeting is all you say it is, then leave your cell phone on when you go back to the table, then I’ll hear you ‘discuss taxes’ with Jenna’s dad.”
“This is just silly.”
“It’s not silly. It’s 3 years of my life listening to your empty promises. Where are you? I’m coming down there right now. Where are you?”
He paused. It was only for a split second, but it was long enough to let me know the restaurant where he claimed to be was not where he really was. “I’m at the Steak Pit.”
I whipped open the phone book and looked it up, finger scrolling maniacally down the list of addresses and numbers. “345 Broadway? I’ll be there in ten minutes.”
I knew I wasn’t going to show up anywhere; I was only interested in his response to my threat. If he told me to “go ahead, come on down” I might consider the possibility that he was telling the truth. Instead, he hung up on me.
I stared at the phone, horrified at what had just happened. I knew Ryan wasn’t at The Steak Pit. There was only one restaurant he frequented in Salt Lake City. I dialed my friend Melissa and explained to her the situation. In less than 10 minutes, her car pulled up outside my apartment and we sped off to the restaurant I knew he was really at.
Upon arrival, I gave Melissa her marching orders: When you see Ryan, make sure he sees you and give him a dirty look. But don’t make a scene and don’t let Jenna catch you glaring at him. If they are, indeed, happily married, I don’t want to rock their happy family boat, I just want to know the truth.
The car door slammed behind Melissa and I was left to my own nervous devices. The adrenaline rocketing through my body caused my right leg to jitter up and down. I stamped my heel to the floor of the car to try and quell the tremors. It didn’t help.
Within minutes, Melissa was already hustling across the street, exploding into the car. “He’s not there. I checked everywhere.” I unbuckled my seat belt. “Where are you going?” concern played across Melissa’s graceful features.
“I’m going to peek at the valet parking. If his Jaguar is there, he’s taken the shuttle to the Utah Jazz game. I’ll be right back.”
Within seconds, I located it. I could see his briefcase nestled on the buttery leather passenger seat. I did a quick scan for feminine items: lip gloss, a purse, a jacket, something a wife would leave behind. But there was nothing. My heart swelled with hope once again.
Maybe he had a quick business meeting with Jenna and her dad, then went to the Jazz game on his own. He’s done that before.
I scuttled back to Melissa and broke the news. “Drive to the Delta Center,” I commanded. My voice sounded harsh, like the manual pencil sharpeners from elementary school that chewed the ends of yellow number twos.
Once we parked, my legs were shaking so badly I could barely climb the steps leading to the imposing structure. I’d only been to the Delta Center once, years before, for a Pearl Jam concert. The gigantic building loomed imposingly above me, a solid marriage of concrete and steel.
Locating someone within the 22,000 seat arena is akin to finding an eye contact in a swimming pool. But then I remembered something Ryan told me months ago, when he took his soon to a basketball game that was going to be televised.
“Tell me where you sit and I’ll look for you on TV!”
“You really might be able to see us, we sit exactly 14 rows behind the Jazz players,” he had replied.
As I pressed onward, Melissa in tow, those words kept replaying in my head. 14 rows behind the basketball players. 14 rows back. 14 rows.
“Just stay quiet and agree with whatever I say,” I whispered to Melissa as we approached one of the entries.
“Good evening Miss, can I see your ticket please?”
“Hi. My roommate and I live just down the street. We’ve locked ourselves out of our apartment. The only people with the spare key are my parents. They’re in here at the Jazz game. I wonder if I leave my ID card here with you, if we could run in, grab the spare keys and run out? It should only take five minutes. I know right where their seats are.”
I beam my best “I’m a god-fearing-Mormon-gal-who-still-attends-church-regularly” look.
“Sure thing, sweetheart. Don’t bother about leaving your ID.” He gave me a leering wink and Melissa and I sailed inside the building.
The bright light of the arena was an assault to my eyesight. The flashy vista that lay before me was an immediate contradiction to the black thundercloud cloud threatening my heart and mind. He won’t be here, I comforted myself, and if he is, he’ll be with friends.
We stepped into the arena and walked to the edge of the concrete platform. I quickly located the row of Jazz Players rimming the court. Once I found the team, I began to count the rows behind them. One, two, three, four… the countdown to discovery. Five, six, seven, eight, nine…
“There he is!”
Out of sheer habit, I was momentarily elated when I picked his face out of the crowd. Then his seatmate turned toward me. And I was frozen.
Three of the most difficult years of my life. Years spent telling friends “no” so I could wait around at home on the off-chance Ryan would be able to sneak away. Years of agonizing nights alone while he went to “family obligations” with his wife. Years of painfully hiding a relationship.
These wasted years and years had culminated in this single, horrifying moment in time. There he sat, happily watching a Jazz game with the woman he claimed disgusted him, the woman he was supposedly divorcing.
My knees buckled like someone kicked me from behind and I gripped the banana-colored metal railing for support. Melissa was uncharacteristically speechless. For about ten seconds.
“That f***er.” Her tone was menacingly quiet.
“Oh my god,” I rasped
“I will kill him,” Melissa continued.
“I can’t believe this is happening.”
“I will slash the tires on his car.”
The half-time buzzer shrilled through my body, slamming me back to reality.
“Meet me at the top of his row.”
“Holy s***! What are you going to do?” Melissa was ringing her hands anxiously.
“I’m going to let him know I see him. I see him here with his wife and I see him for the lying, no good, worthless jerk that he really is.”
Before she could stop me, I was stumbling down the stairs.
Like a late arrival to the movie theater, I squeezed between knees and seats, until I arrived at the bottom of Ryan’s section. I was now standing directly next to the basketball teams’ seats. Ryan was above me, chatting amiably to the man and woman seated next to him.
As I got closer, I could hear him discussing the game with the couple in the two seats between his and the stairway. A quick look in Jenna’s direction confirmed she was chattering away obliviously with a group of women. I was four rows away when Ryan happened to glance up.
My lips felt loose and rubbery. They stretched into the most pretend smile I’ve ever smiled and I trilled: “Ryyyyyannn! Fancy running into you here!”
He was horrified. Bewildered. My appearance at the Jazz games he had shared with his wife for nearly 15 years was so out of context he could only grimace uncertainly. The couple he was conversing with smiled politely my way and continued chatting to each other, allowing Ryan to catch up with a woman they assumed was an old acquaintance or coworker.
“Ryyyann…” I chirped in the strange falsetto that was bursting from my throat. “How arrrre you? Watching the Jazz, huh?” Still he sat. Words had left him. That stupid smile still pasted across his handsome features.
“Is that your wife, Jenna, I see over there? Tell her I said hello! Bye now.” With that, I continued up the stairs.
When I got to the top of the stairs, I looked back. Jenna, unaware of my presence, was still absorbed in a conversation with her friends. Ryan was staring straight ahead. I turned around, stumbled through the tunnel and fell into Melissa, who was waiting at the other end of the section.
“Let’s get out of here,” I sobbed.
Once home (and a few shots of Jagermeister to calm my frazzled nerves later), excruciatingly painful sobs tore out of my chest and ripped upward through my throat. I curled into a fetal position, clutched my stomach and buried my face into my pillow to drown the howling. I cried so hard and for so long, I began to retch.
I skittered drunkenly for the bathroom and spewed the contents of my stomach into the toilet. I flushed, draped my arms across the toilet seat and dropped my feverish head across them. I hiccupped, gasping for air like a small child who has just finished throwing a convulsive tantrum.
I splashed water across my mottled face and I caught sight of myself in the bathroom mirror. Rage coursed through my veins and I hated myself. I hated the stupid, stupid girl who had tolerated this relationship. I hated her for being too weak to move on.
Then I did something I’d never, ever done before: I slapped myself. Hard. It felt good and I did it again.
“You deserve that you stupid b****,” I slurred at myself. I dragged my fingernails down my cheek, inspiring puffy, red welts. Not able to face myself any longer, I floundered back to my bed and fell heavily onto the mattress.
Moaning, I rolled over and looked at the alarm clock on my nightstand. Nine o’clock. So the game was over. Ryan might already be home. I pressed the power button on my cell phone. It vibrated to life but there were no messages. No one had called.
I heaved the phone against the wall. It exploded, black plastic pieces raining down onto the floor. How could he not call? That’s it, then. That’s all I was. Some private trophy girlfriend. A stupid, blonde boost to his already inflated ego.
At that moment, I fissured deep inside. Like an elastic band stretched too far, I snapped and there would be no bouncing back into who I used to be. I was forever altered. Before I knew what I was doing, I slammed out of my apartment, my bare feet slapping the cement. I was running. Running as fast as I could.
While he was building his new home, Ryan was living in a condominium less than a mile from my apartment. “So I can see you all the time,” he had said at the time.
Within minutes, I was barreling up his front steps. The door was locked. I rocketed through the side gate, into his backyard. Inside, the house was dark. The only light was the ghostly pall the digital microwave cast on the kitchen that lay just beyond the sliding glass door. I tried the door. It slid smoothly open.
Ryan’s back was to me as he sat motionlessly in his oversized leather armchair. I could see that he was holding his requisite three fingers of scotch in his right hand.
“You,” I growled. “You!”
He said nothing. Didn’t even turn around. Not a muscle twitched. I walked directly in front of him, my body quivering with rage. The expression on his face was something I didn’t expect. Lines of despair etched his skin like tree bark. His eyes followed me, but still, he said nothing.
I slapped the glass of amber-colored Glenlivet from his grasp. The glass launched from his loose grasp and shattered against the wall. “I hate you!” I screamed, which quickly turned into tears.
Ryan sprang from his seat and grabbed my hand. Instinctively, I jumped backwards until I realized he was clutching my arm protectively. Blood was spurting from the center of my hand where my palm had connected with the glass, leaving behind a torn flap of skin.
“Oh, Monica,” Ryan was crying now. Silent tears streaked his bleak expression.
“Don’t touch me, you liar! LIAR!” I hissed. Still, he clung to my hand, pulling me to the kitchen where he wrapped a dish towel around the bloody mess, pressing the damp cloth into my palm. We stood there in the dark silence, listening to each others’ ragged breathing.
“It’s not what you think,” he finally chanced.
“That is such BS!” I yanked my bleeding hand from his grasp and retreated to the other side of the room. “You lied to me. And I saw you with her!”
“Just listen to me!” I fell silent when, uncharacteristically, he raised his voice.
“I was meeting Jenna and her dad about our taxes. He is still very much involved with her finances. She’s a little daddy’s girl. Once he left, she and I were walking out of the restaurant together when we ran into our old group of friends who go to the Jazz games. What could we do? Nobody knows we’re divorcing!”
“After nearly three f***ing years everyone should damn well know!” I spat.
He hung his head dejectedly. “They asked us to go to the game. So I went. I didn’t even talk to her the entire night. We hate being together. You saw us. She wasn’t even sitting by me. She went to socialize with her uppity girlfriends.”
“You are SO worried about keeping up appearances!” I shrieked accusingly.
“It’s for my kids. If she’s happy, they’re happy. If I can keep her happy throughout this whole ordeal, it will end faster. If there are problems, like me dating our old babysitter, for chrissakes, she will make my life and yours a living hell!”
I leaned against the refrigerator and slumped slowly to the floor.
“I just can’t take it anymore. I can’t. This is all your game. I’m just a helpless spectator, yet the fate of my life hangs in the balance too. You withhold information to keep me from getting upset, but discovering the truth is worse. I can’t do this. I am that girl. The stupid girl that dates a married guy who claims he is divorcing. And he never does. And he never will.”
I stood up, cradling my bloody, dish toweled hand to my chest, and walked out of his condominium for the last time.
Monica Bielanko is a mom of three who writes about relationships, her personal experiences, and co-parenting with her ex. Her writing has appeared on The Huffington Post, Yahoo!, and Mom.me. For more of her writing, visit her website, The Girl Who.
This article was originally published at The Girl Who. Reprinted with permission from the author.