At the end of the workday, when everyone else in the office had cleared out for the evening and it was just the two of us there, I did not stand in my coworker’s door and ask her if she wanted to go and get a drink. She then, in turn, did not reveal a flash of her smoothly shaved leg and smile seductively at me. We did not go to the little bar down the street where no one knew our name, did not share a few drinks as the rush of sexual tension flitted up our thighs. I did not feel the hot flash of shame and desire.
We did not go back to the office, the tension and expectation causing our toes to curl. We did not finally embrace on the copy machine, our bodies meshed together in hot embrace. She did not ride me on my boss’ floor, an undulating wave crashing over me. Shame did not strike over me when it was finally over, nor did the smug satisfaction of having a secret.
I did not then go home, did not spend a week or two to process the act, and then I did not write an anonymous article about the experience and submit it to a moderately well-read internet publication. I didn’t frantically check the comment box to see how outraged/elated/turned-on the readers were. I didn’t subtly pass along the link to a few friends to see what they thought of the writing. Because I didn’t do this, I never learned that publishing my innermost secrets anonymously wouldn’t make me feel any better, and would just end up tearing me up a little inside more, whatever was left to tear up.
I didn’t spend years lying to the woman who committed herself to me. I didn’t hold a secret inside me that ripped me apart, didn’t turn into a hardened, angry guy, an anger I then didn’t take out on my wife. I did none of that.
Here’s what I did do: I walked into my coworker’s office and asked her how she was at the end of the day. I did so with no double entendres or subtle undertones. She told me she was tired. We shared a mundane joke about hoping Friday would come soon.
I asked about her family. She told me her dad was a little sick, and to be honest she was worried about it. I did my best to empathize, not because it would get me anything or because it would show her how empathetic a guy I am and thus someone she might consider sleeping with, but because I too had a sick parent once and I remembered how scary and lonely it was to go through that.
She asked after my wife and I told her there were tough days, like any relationship, but I loved her and I was a really lucky guy. She smiled and told me that she hoped she would find something like that one day, and I promised her she would.
Then I rode home on the subway alone. A homeless man asked me for a dollar and I told him I didn’t have any money, and then I felt guilt for that because I did have a few bucks, but he had already walked on and it made me feel stupid to walk after him and offer him money, thus admitting I had lied to him a moment ago. I resolved to try and be better about this in the future.
I got home and found my wife on the couch. She had come down with something during the day, some bug or another, and felt terrible. She was in unflattering sweats and blew her nose into a tissue, which she then threw in a small trash bin at her feet that was full of other used tissues. She hadn’t lined the bin, which was a huge pet peeve of mine, but I knew she was just as tired as me, and I wasn’t going to force an argument now.
She told me she’d been too sick to cook dinner, and if I’d mind. I smiled. She blew me a kiss because she didn’t want to get me sick. I walked to the kitchen and, even though I was exhausted after a long day at my job, I got to work cooking a plain dinner neither of us would remember.
Then she turned off the TV show she’d been watching, because she knew I didn’t particularly like the show she was watching, and knew it wouldn’t be fun for me to listen to the show while I was cooking. She went over to the stereo and put on a record she knew was one of my favorites. I loved her for that little sacrifice she’d made for me, however small it was. And then I chopped the onions, and boiled the water, and kept on with the infinite number of small tasks that come with trying to live a decent life.