Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Dear Mrs. Henshaw

Yesterday I had the strangest call of my entire life. I noticed around 2 or so that someone had called my cell. They didn't leave a message, and I didn't recognize the number at all. I quickly forgot about it.

Later in the day as I was getting on the train at 5, my cell rang. It was the same number. I thought twice about answering; if I don't recognize the number, I normally just skip it. I'm even not opposed to letting the phone go to VM for numbers I do recognize -- even for family members. However, I decided to answer.

I normally answer, "Hello, this is Rae" because I'm in work-mode, but because I didn't recognize the number, I just said, "Hello." A woman's voice came though, but she was hard to hear. Her first words also threw me -- when you say, "Hello" to someone calling you, you expect a "Hello, this is so-and-so" or something like that. But, she didn't start out that way. And, the train was loud, it was a cell connection (even the good ones suck), and her voice was thin and wiry.

MH: Do you know Tim Her..s,e....?

Me: What? Hello?

MH: Do you know Heck Twimekw...?

Me: Sorry. I think you have the wrong number.

MH: Chuck Henw.eere.w.e?

Me: Tim Hecksun?


Me: Um, Chuck. Chuck. Um, no. Don't think so. You have the wrong number.

MH: NO, I don't think I do. Chuck Henshaw. Your number was in his cell phone. He's called you and you have called him. You must know him.

Me: Look lady, I don't know Chuck Henshaw. I don't know what you're talking about.

MH: I think you do know what I'm talking about. Your number is in his cell.

Me: Are you sure you dialed the right number? I don't know this guy.

MH: Oh, I'm sure I did. You know him. Your number is here in his phone. He lives in Virginia?

Me: I don't live in Virginia. I don't know who you're talking about.

MH: Well, you should know he's married. Has a wife, kids. You should stay away.

Me: LOOK Lady! I don't know what's up, but I don't know who this guy is. I'm happily married, monogamous, have a family. I don't even live in Virginia.

MH: Yeah, uh-huh.

Me: I'm telling you lady, you have the wrong person. I don't know how my number got in his phone, but I've never talked to a Chuck Henshaw in my life.

MH: Well, just stay away.

Me: Good luck, lady. You have a lot to work out. Good luck.


I don't know how long our exchange ... I can't call it a conversation ... went on. Not long. But long enough for 20 questions, growing defensiveness, and weirdness.

Interesting about my own reaction to this. As I write this about 14 hours later, I'm shaking. Isn't that weird? I guess I feel somehow attacked -- and wrongly so -- so my body has some adrenaline going through it. But I'm completely innocent of her accusations, so I shouldn't be upset.

This particular reaction aside, I had two post-call responses:

1. Snarky
Oh Chuck?!? How is he? Hey, did that bout of herpes clear up for him?

Oh Chuck?!? That smarmy-ass dude? Geez lady, you should run as fast as you can.

Chuck. Chuck. Oh yeah, I remember. He has the best dick in town.

Chuck? Yeah! Hey, is he coming back to the Swingers Club anytime soon? Don and Mike were asking about him. They miss our foursome.

2. Compassionate
Wait lady, calm down a bit. Honestly, I don't know who your husband is, but I am so sorry you're going through this. This is a horrible thing to deal with, and I am so sorry -- from one human to another -- that you are wrestling with these horrible happenings.

Listen, you really need to take this up with him. His phone might be filled with a slew of other women's numbers, and you can call each one. But what's the point of calling them? The issue is with your husband, not with them. Deal with him and with yourself and leave the others to figure it out on their own. What do you care about them? Focus on him and on working this out.

...And this morning I have my own thoughts.

I think affairs spell a crisis not only in the life of a marriage but also in each individual's life. I can't think of an instance when an affair isn't about the marriage and BOTH spouses. The adulterer can say it's all about him or her, that it has nothing to do with the spouse, etc, but it undeniably has everything to do with the spouse. Maybe a person can be truly troubled, in which case an affair might not have anything to do with a spouse - the person has a real mental problem. Or they have a different definition of marriage than others. But I really think that scenario is rare.

If a marriage is truly functioning -- if both people are fulfilled, have the individual space they need (which varies for each person), are fulfilled in the balance between work and home, have a fulfilling romantic life along with a fulfilling friendship, then why would one spouse have an affair? What need would compel them to seek the company of someone outside the marriage?

Unless it were an agreement between the couple (in which case an affair wouldn't be a problem), I can't see how an affair is just about one person.

And when it does happen, it marks a tremendous rift in everyone's life. A time when your guts open up and are ripped from your body by an outstretched, groping, yearning hand in search for something it doesn't have. It's a time when you must confront yourself in the mirror and find out who you are. A time when you find out what you are made of, what motivates you, what scares you, what angers you. You spend weeks, months figuring out all the things that have made you into the awful, deceitful, cunning, lying, cheating, slug that you are. You dredge the depths of your soul to surface all the rotting, evil, festering garbage that has cluttered your mind, being, life, and you lay it all out to bear.

And then, if you are strong enough and lucky enough, you start to fix it. You let the rot decay completely. You air it. You let the sun dry it out and the wind flake it away. And you start to replace the rot with things that are good. Like a scab that starts to unpeel, you expose raw, sensitive, but new parts of you underneath. Parts of you that impact who you are at home, at work, with your kids, with your friends, with your foes. You find your compassion, humility, humanity. You find your voice has changed, your posture has changed, your chest has changed. You're not as puffed up. You're not as defensive. You don't walk around with a chip on your shoulder, with your armor up.

Instead, you're like the fresh green shoots that rise up from the shit patties left in a barren field. Shoots that are tender and wet with dew. That can be crushed in an instance.

And you wonder how you can operate so fresh and green and raw. How can you make it in the monster workplace where you're foes outnumber your friends and will eat you for a mid-morning snack?

You let them eat you...for a time.

Because you have to lose that sense of invincibility and of righteousness that affairs bring. You have to give up that anger that precedes the affair, the anger about your marriage, your spouse, your kids, your life, yourself.

And if you're lucky ... if you are so undeservedly lucky, but lucky all the same, then your spouse is going through all of this with you. With you, against you, in opposition to you, hating you, and loving you all the same. And you both emerge scathed and scarred but stronger.

Mrs. Henshaw, I am so sorry for the pain you're feeling. With all sincerity, good luck.


Netter said...

You're right. Mrs. Henshaw isn't looking at the situation the right way. If she were, she'd be talking to Chuck and not trying to mark her territory. I can't imagine the devastation of being betrayed like that, or ever betraying my husband. But, there are lots of ways that we tear away at the most important relationships in our lives. I'm guilty of a few of them.

Amy Lane said...

Those were some very good insights at the end about affairs... it's funny--I've always been pretty sure I'd be more forgiving of Mate than he would be of me...but then, no one in my family has ever had an affair, and he had his world ripped apart by one as a teenager.

But I probably would have gone shallow with the snarky stuff... It's my only line of defense, really.

Heidi said...

Wow, Weird. Insightful reflection about affairs.

Faith! said...

Wow, that's totally bizarre! I always think up super snappy comments way after the fact. Also, I once was on the receiving end of one of those calls, except I WAS who the person thought I was. I didn't know he had a girlfriend! That was in my wilder years, but it still hurts my heart to think about it. Very interesting post.