I look back on this story with the shame of a fool. It’s been some years now, and the times and ages are a little dated. Nothing more, I suppose, than an old fool letting emotions get the best of him, and reading more into a situation than was wise.
I have been told that it was a betrayal of marital trust.
There is regret. There is hurt.
Now you know one of my skeletons.
It happened during an unhappy period of our marriage. Two springs ago, in the midst of deep depression, I told the story, in part, to my wife. She listened without condemnation, as I spoke about loneliness and alienation. There were some tears, she said we would “get through it”, and has made an effort towards more closeness between us.
Going on 3 years ago, I had a work injury that required physiotherapy, and I was sent to our local clinic. I got along very well with the girl that was my physiotherapist, and was always happy to see her on the next visit. Her name is Marty. She is 30 years old, athletic, and has several university degrees. I am much older, enough to be her father.
About a year later, I was sent there again for a back problem, and she was my therapist then as well. We developed a fondness for one another, which began with glances, halting words, and embarrassed blushes.
On two occasions within the time she looked after me, she confided that she was “single again” because of a failed relationship.
At some point during one of the sessions she said, out of the blue, “you know, I like you very much, Lee”, and I responded in kind. We blushed and there was a little awkwardness.
The day before what I thought would be my last visit, I remembered one of her conversations with the other girls. They were talking about some of their guilty pleasures. Hers was chocolate.
So, I went and bought a couple of fancy bars for her, put them into a gift bag, and hung them up behind my coat when I came in.
When the session was done, and I was getting ready to go, she said “I think I’m going to get you come for one more visit in 2 weeks, because you’re not quite there yet”.
I gave her the bag, and said “I thought you were getting rid of me today, so I brought you this”.
She began fumbling with it, and said “why the hell did you tape it up?” Finally it opened, and the chocolates fell out.
She ran to me, smiling and blushing once again, gave me a very tight hug, and said “you remembered!” There were other people around, and I was pretty embarrassed, so I said I would see her in 2 weeks, and we left it like that.
Oddly, When I came back for the very last appointment, she was sort of cool to me, and avoided eye contact. I said my farewells, and did not see her for many months.
I was working the midnight shift, by myself. One night, about six months after I had last seen her, I started thinking about her, and wondered if she was alright. I told myself I should just pop in and check on her one day, so, shortly before Christmas, I came bearing gifts once again, some chocolate for her and for the office manager Susan. Neither of them were there at the time, so I left the gifts anonymously with one of the other girls.
After the new year, I had a doctor’s appointment down the hall from them, so I looked in to see Susan at the desk. She knew I had left the chocolates, and said thank you.
While we were talking, I felt someone hug me from behind. It was Marty, and she had interrupted a meeting with one of her clients to come and see me. When I saw that it was her, I was shocked, because she looked almost anorexic. I didn’t know what to say, and stupidly said “have you been going to the gym or something?”
She said “oh, you know me, always the health nut. But I must get back to my client now”. I said “listen, what do you take in your coffee? I’ll bring you one some time”. She asked for peppermint tea, and Susan said “I’m a coffee girl, if you’re going.”
Marty went back to her office, and I then spoke to Susan in a hushed voice, saying “is there something wrong with Marty? She looks so thin.” Susan said “oh, she says she’s been on a health regimen etc. To give you an example, she’s only eaten chicken and rice for the last two weeks”. I said “have you talked to her about it?” and she said “yes, but I think there may be some other reason behind it”.
After I went home from there, and increasingly in the days after, I realized that I cared for this girl very much.
So, every couple of weeks since then, I brought them their tea and coffee. One day, I taped a big piece of chocolate to the bottom of Marty’s cup, with a message written underneath wishing her a wonderful day, and just left it on the counter for her. I got another hug for that the next time I came. She said I had made her day with that little gesture, and I told her that she made my day each time I saw her.
Shortly thereafter, I decided to write a letter to her, expressing my feelings. At the end of it, I said “when I saw you last, you were blushing. I did not know if it was a happy blush, or one of embarrassment, and that maybe I should just stay away. If any of this makes you uncomfortable, just tell me, and I will go.”
It took some nerve to actually post it, but I did. Afterwards, I waited a week, then a bit longer, and my mind was in turmoil as to whether I should go back there.
During this time, I was making a trip to the grocery store in town, and I suddenly felt a strange sensation in the head, and pulled over just in time before I actually blacked out. A visit to the hospital ensued, along with some inconclusive tests and some advice to limit my driving and see my family doctor.
A few days later, I decided I had to go and see what Marty had to say. So, I went and got tea and coffee for her and Susan. They asked me how I was, and I told them what had happened. Then Marty looked at me disapprovingly, saying “if you’re not supposed to be driving, where did you get these cups of tea?” I had no answer for that, and she turned her back on me and walked away.
I finished talking with Susan, and made ready to go, when Marty came out into the hallway, gave a little smile, and said “it was a happy blush, by the way”.
From this, of course, I found out three things: she had received the letter, she had read the whole thing, and she was not pushing me away.
I came with tea one time after that, but she was away sick.
The depression that had been gripping me began to intensify, and, one day in April, after seeing my psychologist, I finally decided to seek medical help. I was given a script for antidepressants, then went home to spend part of the afternoon just curled up in bed.
I was so restless and anxious that I got up and went for a walk. As I approached the medical building, something made me pull out my phone and dial the Physio department number. I asked for Marty, and the girl said “I’ll get her”. I said “no, I just wanted to know if she was there”.
Still anxious and probably shaking, I went up the stairs to their office, and the girl at the desk said “Marty, Lee is here”.
She came out and said “Lee, sit down, I’m just getting my lunch.” I asked if there was somewhere we could talk privately, and she directed me to her office.
We sat down, and she said “What’s the matter? You don’t look very well.”
I said “Sorry, it’s been a difficult day…nothing to do with you” (untrue).
“Let me start by saying that I don’t regret having sent you that letter”.
She said “No, Lee, it made me feel happy and valued, because it came soon after I had quit a bad relationship, where I felt inadequate most of the time. One of the offshoots was that I lost nearly forty pounds. I was happy to know that our friendship had made an impact on your life.”
I said “Marty, I’ll ask only one thing of you. If you ever go away for good, tell me, so I can at least come and say goodbye”.
“Where do you think I’m going? If I ever go anywhere, you will know, because our friendship will always be there. Bring my tea, as you always have. Now give me a hug, so I can finish my lunch and get back to work”.
In hindsight, I think this meeting was a mistake. I was in a fragile emotional state, and had made more out of the relationship than was wise. She may have been feeling a little trapped, but was still trying to be kind.
I came with tea one time after that, but that was a mistake as well. Her boss intercepted me and said he would give it to her later, as she was “behind”.
Finally, two weeks later, I had a massage appointment down the hall from them, which I had booked a month prior.
I had to go up to the main desk to pay, and Marty was there doing some paperwork. She looked up briefly and said “Hi, Lee. I would stop and chat, but I have an assessment to do.”
Again, she would not look at me, and I felt she was a little upset, so I just touched her shoulder and left.
Marty was a bright spot in my life. I was attracted to her out of my own loneliness, and because of her apparent affection for me.
I fear that I may have caused trouble for her by creating office gossip, and that perhaps she had shared my letter with an older co-worker who saw that this friendship would be unsupportable.
I’ve had many a long talk with my psychologist about this extramarital friendship and its perceived end, and she has helped me see that it does no good to brood over it. Rather, I should cherish the moments of joy, and take a little pride that a man of my age could attract such a creature.
Update: All is right with the world again. I had an appointment down the hall from her, and I dropped off a cup of peppermint tea. On my way out later, she smiled, waved, and said “Thanks, Lee!”
Update (2): As a way of apologizing, and saying goodbye, I brought her a small gift, disguised as my usual weekly cup of tea, and left it at the desk without seeing her. Inside the cup with the gift was a note of thanks, and of regret that I had caused her any awkwardness. Two weeks later, I brought tea for what I think is the last time, and asked to see her. She came out and walked me down the hall a bit, and we stood face to face. She said she could not accept the little gift, even though she thought it “beautiful”, and wanted to return it. I looked into her eyes, smiled, and said “I wish you wouldn’t”. We spoke further, and she thanked me for today’s tea, saying it was “a help”. We did not touch or embrace as in the past.
I think this is the last time we will see each other.