For someone who’s been in the habit of journaling for nearly all of my life, it’s strange I did not take the time to write about the emotional phone conversations I shared with “Ken” in the months preceding the release of Water Signs. Perhaps because I was so busy channeling all of the energy and feeling into a fictionalized version of events, I didn’t believe it necessary. Besides, there is no way I’d ever forget them, no matter how hard I tried. For good or ill, the selective amnesia phase of my life is definitely over.
And given the personal, surprising nature of what I am about to share in this post, it would be damned near impossible to force myself to forget.
Sometime in July of 2008 — two months before the book was on the market — “Ken” and I made plans to meet for coffee one night after work, against my better judgment. While my heart wanted nothing more than to see him in person for the first time in approximately 13 years, my head kept telling me this was not such a great idea. In fact, it was a really bad one. Keep in mind, unlike the novel, “Ken” was still very much a married man.
And although as I’d admonished him “I hadn’t lost my moral compass” or my steadfast belief in right and wrong (to nip any erroneous notion of my motive for contacting him/writing the book in the bud, i.e. the desire for an affair), I still didn’t see any good reason to put myself in a potentially gut-wrenching and/or tempting situation. After all, I was not superhuman — I was a flawed human being, a woman who was just beginning to understand and appreciate the magnitude of my feelings for this man and the depths of the sorrow we’d inflicted upon each other (though he has me beat in this area; I never pretended my fiancé was my “platonic” roommate, knowing full well someone was relocating their entire life to be with me).
Still, I did sincerely apologize for the hurtful “Dear John” letter I’d mailed him all those years ago, under duress to end the relationship by a well-meaning, but nevertheless misguided parent. It tore me up when during one phone conversation, he described in great detail exactly where he’d been when he’d read it; his anguish was palpable as he relived the memory of standing in his living room in absolute pain, hurt and anger.
And all I could do was say I was sorry. I count this episode among one of the very few things I’d change if God allowed us to travel back in time. Regrets, I’ve had a few — and this is definitely one of them. But I’ve also forgiven the naive, confused 25-year old young woman who’d written that letter because she no longer wished to be the cause of discord between her parents. For that matter, I’ve long forgiven my mom, too.
This aspect of real life is explored in Chapter 13:
“No thanks, I’m not hungry,” she informed her mother, before rolling over to face Lori’s closet. Wasn’t it enough that she’d caved into unreasonable demands and broken Kenny’s heart? She was also expected to carry on as if he’d never existed? Here it was, the night before Thanksgiving and all she wanted to do was crawl under the covers, crying over what might have been; for all she knew, she could’ve been spending the long weekend with Kenny’s family in Ventnor, or driving and laughing with him in the car as they toured suburban Philadelphia on rambling, country roads. Instead here she was, lonely, frustrated, sad and angry—mostly at herself.
After all, Dad, Lori and Greg had all taken her side, offering complete support and encouraging her to follow her heart. Dad had even stressed on more than one occasion that Maddy could always talk to him whenever she felt the need. There was no question that, had she proceeded with the relationship, Mom would’ve accepted it eventually. But Maddy was self-aware enough to acknowledge the truth—she’d used her mother’s disapproval as an escape route when her own intense feelings for Ken had become too frightening to handle.
Looking down at the gold Pisces pendant in her hand, Maddy thought back to that beautiful weekend, and their romantic dinner at The Ship Inn. He had such an incredible way of making her feel as if she was the only woman in a room; being with him had been so easy. No pangs of inadequacy, borne out of some misguided notion of failing to live up to the accomplishments of her ambitious family. Ken saw her as that rare and complete woman—smart, beautiful, principled and sweet. She was everything he never thought he’d find. And towards the end, he’d nearly accomplished the impossible by edging Maddy ever so closer to seeing what had been clear to him from day one.
Anyway, when the idea of an after-work get-together presented itself, an internal battle raged within (should I or shouldn’t I?), though I ultimately agreed to it. Later that same night, “Ken” even emailed his confirmation on the date, place and time; he’d also been very forthcoming about his busy life as a sales executive with days that typically started at 8 a.m. and didn’t end until 8 p.m.
About two days before our scheduled coffee date, I received another email expressing his regret that — due to the fact that some corporate bigwig was flying into Fort Lauderdale the same day we’d arranged our little soirée — he’d have to cancel. That his weekly Happy Hour ritual with local management had now transformed into a mandatory dinner with the big boss. And while this explanation seemed plausible, even probable, I knew instinctively it was not the real reason for his cold feet: based on our heart-tugging telephone correspondences I surmised that the real, raw emotion we’d mutually dredged up was also a significant factor, maybe even the only one.
Trust me, I was relieved. There was no good reason to break my heart all over again, and I knew that laying eyes on him once more in person — with his piercing blue eyes; beautiful smile; masculine build; and deep, baritone voice — would only make me sadder about what might have been. It was one thing to verbally clear out past issues; quite another to stare at each other awkwardly over cappuccino in a local cafe. Then there was the not-so-insignificant matter of someone seeing us in a town where there are six degrees of separation. Innocent or not, given our history this meeting would’ve been highly inappropriate.
Six weeks went by with no word from “Ken”. In my return email, I’d never mentioned anything about rescheduling; I simply wished him luck with his business obligations. On the Friday afternoon of Labor Day weekend (just weeks before the novel’s release), I’d just arrived home from work when my cell phone rang. The conversation went something like this:
“Ken”: “Daria, I needed to talk to you, to tell you the real reason why I canceled our meeting.”
Me: “Do I need to sit down for this?”
“Ken”: “I’ve been having these very real, very explicit, passionate dreams about you, and it’s really freaking me out.”
Me: (heart in my throat) “Oh.”
“Ken”: “And the thing is, I don’t even remember you being that attracted to me. I mean, I was the 25 year-old guy with raging hormones and you — well, you just never seemed that into me. And yet in these dreams I’m having, you –“
Me: “Ok Ken, I get the picture.”
“Ken”: “So, I just can’t see you right now; I am just not ready to revisit that idea”.
Me: “To be honest with you, I’m not either. I was kind of glad when you canceled — not that I don’t want to see you, just that I see no reason to put myself through that. And one of us is married, so it’s not right.”
From there it evolved into another emotional exchange with “Ken” telling me how wonderful I was, how much he’s missed me, etc. At one point he asked if he could call me again, to which I replied:
“It’s a free country, Ken, and I can’t stop you from calling me. However, I can’t guarantee that when you do call, I will pick up the phone. I have to think about myself, too. And this is beginning to feel like emotional adultery. I’m glad we got to clear the air, but as long as you’re committed to another woman, we really shouldn’t speak to each other.”
To which he responded by saying, “That’s what makes you so cool.” (Yeah, that’s me. A real cool cat!)
I should also mention that my heart was pounding furiously throughout the duration of this little exchange, which ended abruptly when he started to get choked up, before mumbling something about driving in traffic and hanging up the phone.
Still reeling, I took out the trash, retrieved my mail and tried to regain my composure. That’s when I noticed a voice mail message on my cell phone:
“Daria, it’s me again. Please call me back — I have one more question to ask you and it’s the most difficult question of all. Don’t worry, it’ s not about getting together. Like I said, I am not ready to revisit that concept just yet (muffled laugh). Just please call me.”
And here, dear readers, is where we have another convergence of fact and fiction.
In Chapter 18, Ken, now a recently relocated resident of South Florida, dials Maddy’s number to initiate yet another dialogue about the wonders of his new state and the possibility of her joining him in his excellent adventure. Over a year has passed since they’ve seen each other, and Ken has a very pressing matter on his mind:
“Thank God I’m not the only one,” he replied softly. “Maddy, can I ask you something; please don’t get mad at me, but it’s just something I need to know.”
“What?” She braced for the query.
“Are you still a virgin?”
“Kenny! I can’t believe you’re asking me that!” For a moment, she thought about sharing all of her dating horror stories, but quickly decided against it; she wasn’t ready to give him the satisfaction of knowing he still ruled her heart.
“C’mon, Maddy, it’s me you’re talking to here; please just tell me.” His voice remained steady and calm.
“Fine—yes, if you must know! Yes, I am still a virgin! Does that make you happy?”
“Yes, because I still want to be your first—and only,” he confirmed softly. That led to another long silence as Maddy contemplated this simultaneously uplifting and confusing piece of information.
“Kenny,” she finally said, “I-I don’t know what you want me to say.”
“Say you want it to,” he pleaded.
“I do, but it’s just not that easy,” she sighed.
While for dramatic purposes, I embellished and altered this real-life exchange in the interest of more compelling fiction, the virginity question was indeed posed by both flesh-and-blood Ken and character Ken.
Almost 15 years after he’d made the original query, “Ken” called me back on that Labor Day weekend afternoon specifically to repeat the question. Bear in mind, we’d already disconnected the call amid a wave of overwhelming emotion, so for him to redial my number strictly for this purpose was a little unsettling. It was also deja vue, only this time we were both living in The Sunshine State.
I’d like to say I acted coyly, or simply announced with some indignation that my sexual status was none of his concern, but after first nervously laughing in reaction (and remembering the “first time” he’d asked me years ago), I was so taken off-guard that I gave a much more detailed answer than was necessary or prudent.
I did however, ask why it was so important to him — being a married man and all. To this day, I am not sure if I am buying his response, but it went something like:
“Sex is such a great part of life and you’re such a wonderful woman I just wanted to make sure you’re not missing out.”
Coming on the heels of canceling our coffee date due to “passionate dreams” about me, admitting he’s not ready to see me in person and having the audacity to inquire about my love life, this just didn’t come across as an honest answer. It also confirmed that, as long as “Ken” was choosing to remain united in the bonds of marriage with another woman, this had to be the absolute last time we’d ever speak. One thing I knew for certain: if I was a married woman, I would not be too happy if I knew my husband was participating in such intimate conversations with an old flame.
But in the age of the internet, there’s always email — and social media. And I would soon discover that “Ken’s” spouse was not above using a little LinkedIn deception to make a little mischief of her own.
More intrigue to come in another post.