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Friday, August 6, 2010

Crackpot Confessional - Adultery

Don't ask me what I'm doing.  I thought I'd pick something nice and easy to defend after last week's shoplifting confession, but noooooo....THIS came to me instead.  I seriously don't know if I can convert anyone this week...

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"Phil's got cancer." That's what my friend Mindy whispered to me while waiting for her son to pick out a video. 

"I thought the doctors got it all."

Mindy shook her head,  "It came back.  He's refusing treatment this time."

My heart sank like it always did in situations like these.  I hated hearing about anyone getting sick, but Phil's illness hit me harder than most.  He'd had a huge crush on me back in high school.  At the time, I was dating Jake the Jerk (who I later married and  divorced), so Phil had never asked me out or anything, but I had always thought he was a nice guy and had wondered more than once what dating him would have been like.

Phil and I lost touch after high school.  Mutual friends had kept me informed over the years.  He married a girl his freshman year of college, had a couple kids who were nearly grown now.  He was diagnosed with the cancer a year ago, and the surgeons had been hopeful that he'd make a full recovery.  

I felt sick to my stomach.  All that chemo, radiation, and surgery for what?  One more year to call his own, but one where he had been too sick or worried about the bills to do much living.  What hell his family must be going through.

It might have ended there -- with me surreptitiously wiping away a tear while my friend urged her son to hurry -- but it didn't.  A few weeks later I happened to run into him at the Post Office when I was running errands.  Phil was walking out as I was going in. He called out to me, I stopped and gave him an oh-my-gosh-I-haven't-seen-you-in-ages hug.  He'd lost a little weight, his tshirt hung a little too loosely, but he still looked remarkably well.  We chatted for a few minutes.  He said he had an appointment to get to, but he'd like to have lunch and catch up on the last twenty years.  I gave him my phone number and email and waved goodbye.

Maybe Mindy was wrong.  He didn't look sick and he hadn't said a word about not feeling well.

About a week later, I got an email.  No mention of a lunch date, just a long note reminiscing about high school.  He didn't mention his crush, just silly antics our mutual acquaintances had been up to and I'd all but forgotten.  I laughed out loud as I recalled some of the incidents.  I replied with anecdotes of my own, chuckling to myself as I typed.

We emailed like that for awhile.  Gradually progressing through the past to our current situations.  Other than a few allusions to being "not being himself", his emails were optimistic and almost always made me laugh.  He never mentioned the "c" word, and I figured it would be rude to bring it up.

Finally, after a few weeks of this joyful email exchange, we set a date and time for lunch.  I discovered I was genuinely looking forward to it.  I had no romantic intentions.  I was looking forward to the conversation and reconnecting with an old friend.

During lunch, he opened up completely, and it broke my heart.  Here was this dynamic man in the final months of his life and he was lonelier than he'd ever been.  His family treated him like an invalid, even though he still possessed near-normal energy and stamina levels. They seemed to think if he just rested enough the cancer would go away.  They worried about his every discomfort, to the extent he no longer shared with them for fear they'd worry needlessly.

His relationship with his wife had been rocky before the diagnosis, which had pushed their relationship into survival mode.  If it hadn't been for the cancer, he was convinced they'd be divorced, but neither of them saw the need to go through with the paperwork. 

After lunch, we strolled through the streets downtown, reluctant to separate just yet.  This could be the last time I ever saw my friend and the thought saddened me.  He held my hand as we walked, and our conversation deepened. He thanked me for my sunny emails, said they helped him forget about the disease for awhile.  Said he appreciated my not mentioning it so he could pretend it wasn't real.

He confessed he was anxious about his failing health, worried about how it would affect his kids to see his vitality robbed from him.  With a blush, he admitted he and his wife hadn't been intimate in nearly two years and that he missed the feeling of a woman in his arms.  And then, as we were about to part, he told me he'd never really gotten over me and regretted that we'd never had the chance to know what might have been.

I made the decision without pausing to think.  I observed that there was a hotel nearby, if he'd like to find out what might have been.  And so we spent the remainder of the afternoon locked in a hotel room, and while I know  he was married and it was wrong, I don't feel guilty.  It was one of the most beautiful, moving experiences of my life.  I have never felt more cherished and appreciated, it felt like he were committing every sensation to memory.

In the end, he held me close.  As we dozed off, I felt a single tear land on my shoulder, and I knew I'd made the right decision.


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So, what's your vote?

Adultery? 

Or the gift of compassion and comfort?

13 comments:

Nicole MacDonald said...

Compassion and comfort - people are over focused on monogamy.

Lindsay (a.k.a Isabella) said...

I'm going with compassion and comfort too. :)

Tamara Hart Heiner said...

Ha! I'll go out on a limb and say adultery--it's what it is, whether it also offered compassion or comfort also is another question.

Candyland said...

Eeek. I have no opinion here. I understand-completely. Compassion, love, sex, all of it gets grouped into these boxes, but I've never lived inside of a box, so...whatever you want to call it...whatever (tongue tied here)

aspiring_x said...

i'm such an stickler... it's adultery. sorry. but it is what it is. i don't think that in life (and good fiction) right and wrong are always easy to distinguish... but it is a VERY moving tale

Theresa Milstein said...

Both. It's one of those gray areas. I don't know what I would've done.

~Nicole Ducleroir~ said...

By legal definition, it's adultery. But human compassion trumps terminology, in my book. Phil's marriage was dissolved (in compassion-terms) when the love died and his and his wife's intimate life ended.

Great story :)

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

That's a tough one Vicki! I'm glad you could comfort an old friend, but I'm a bit worried about the hotel room. I wouldn't go there again. (I'm just sayin'...)

Jaydee Morgan said...

I'm more old-fashioned than I like to think - for me, it's adultery.

Disgruntled Bear said...

It's both.

It's also a great story of that will keep me thinking about what is truly right or wrong.

Anonymous said...

Google "Gloveoil's Gift"

Anonymous said...

It was betrayal. It was wrong.

Vicki Rocho said...

Anonymous, since I assume you are new around here, I want to clarify that The Crackpot Confessional is just me stretching my writing muscles by defending inappropriate behavior. There aren't very many in this series, because it's pretty difficult to defend some things!