"If you go where you shouldn't, you'll get hurt". How many times did I tell her that? The irony of it is that she agreed with me, but "this is different". How many times did she tell me that, and ironically I came to believe her.
She'd sworn off committing to anyone after a traumatic failed relationship some twenty years prior. Not the kind of 'heat of the moment' statement never to love again. She meant it, and lived it. She kept herself aloof from all who showed an interest in her. "Be my friend", she'd say, "don't love me".
She was more afraid of being hurt than she was of dying.
Yet, I've never known someone more full of life, more able to find the positives where others couldn't. I've never seen someone more able to enjoy the simple pleasures of life, nor a more faithful friend. Her life was rough, she'd weathered more storms than someone her age should have endured. The tumultuous times served to strengthen her, each incident a lesson learned. She was self-assured, lively, giving and caring. She didn't have her life quite settled yet, but was content with it nonetheless.
She seemed so tough, so invincible. I wouldn't ever have thought there was anything that would destroy her, nothing could penetrate the wall she had created.
They met in a chat room. The instant they first spoke there was a mutually undeniable attraction. It was as evident as if the words themselves had appeared, "You are the best friend I never had". They shared the same interests, the same humor, the same fears, and a friendship closer than the 544 miles separating them.
"We're just friends", she'd wave her hands and discount my warnings like a pesky mosquito. Time changed that, it was almost pre-destined that they'd become more to each other. I'd have to admit even now, that I'd never seen two people more suited. My warnings came more earnestly though, despite the fact that I thought he was a good person.
After all, he was married. But he was also a preacher, they don't lie. Do they? Surely she could trust in what he told her. His wife was ill, he was watching her life slowly ebb away, he expected her to die. Oh sure, he had the standard "my wife doesn't..." tales as well, but he was standing by his marital committment to care for her until the end. There was never talk of his leaving his marriage. They were good people even in their secret life.
He had faced an uncertain future, alone and lonely. She filled this void, he used to sing to her, "There but for the grace of you, go I". They laughed and cried and planned and promised. All this she shared with me as if to assure me that "this is different".
She told of one day when they were struggling with their growing feelings. He told her he felt like a vacuum cleaner salesman developing an attachment for her and didn't know where to put it. She remembers that as the instant she knew she was so far in love there was no turning back. That was the most romantic statement she'd ever heard.
She felt guilt over the situation, felt odd to be the 'other woman', but was constantly assured by him that their time was on the road ahead. He asked her to marry him, gave her his ring. They planned her move to his state, to live and work there, and be 'friends' until the time they could wed.
He called her his angel, swore his undying love, swore never to hurt her, in times when she felt like she couldn't go on with the lies, he'd beg her to never give up. She promised she wouldn't, promised to wait for him forever. She often said she felt like a vulture waiting for the carrion, waiting for death to release him to her. She hated that part most of all. But she loved him more than life.
They phoned several times, wrote a dozen times a day, huddled in the chat room each night and dreamed. Nearly two years of their lives they existed in their own world, enough time to almost satisfy the skeptic in me. Internet relationships, while heady and exciting, more often don't last. Her enthusiasm was contagious, "This is different".
They met, staying overnight in motels, so sweet, no sex. They both agreed what they had was more special than simply a physical craving. They slept together, holding each other all night, not wanting to sleep for missing each other. She bought him pajamas to wear, then brought them home to savor the scent of him. She used to say that NOT making love to him was better than making it with someone else.
Then the wife saw reality.
He said she threatened to take away his life - the ministry, for that was the most important part of him. He wasn't making a choice between women but choosing God, he said he still wanted to marry her someday. He said the only one he loved more than her was God, and he'd never forget her.
The word that dreams are made of...hope.
The word that life is made of....reality.
What makes it fair for one person to decide another's fate? How fair was it for him to tell her to go away, after begging her so many times to stick by him? I wanted to shake her when she'd cry for HIS pain. I wanted to yell at her, and often did, when she worried more about what he was going through than the fact that she was wasting away.
It was a foreign concept how someone could break such promises, as it was her nature to be a friend for life. I watched her struggle bravely, yet vainly, to understand and to accept. How she could forgive him and not herself?
I see her now, and weep myself, to be witness to her wounded spirit. I do not know what, if anything will heal her. It has cost her everything to have loved him, and yet she loves him still.
She dared to dream of love, build hopes on a relationship doomed from the start. She knew that. The internet is full of lonely people. She was not one of them, but reached out to one and made his life her own. He took the best part of her and let her go to save himself.
Reality was there all along, it wasn't different after all.