My life has taken a weird course in the past few weeks, and it has felt crazy to write about it. But I thank you for being there and listening and offering so much advice:
The night Charlie denied his affair, he fell asleep next to me, but I got up and turned on our computer. I was afraid that the next time he logged on, he would delete all the evidence.
What I wanted most, what had kept me reading all this dreck, was to see what Charlie would say about me. But there was nothing. He had a theory about why men’s bathing suits got longer at the same time that facial hair made a comeback. He tapped out an essay on the difference between shining your own shoes and getting it done professionally. But nowhere could I find a mention of myself or our children. For a week, after his pen pal asked him to write her every day to “just to tell me what you eat for breakfast,” he had supplied whimsical reports on his quest to achieve the perfect cup of Kenyan Morning blend, all without mentioning anyone who sat with him while he drank it.
I noticed for the first time a JPG file attached to one message, and when I clicked on it 2dance — I’ll call her “Zulya” — materialized in front of me. Dressed in a leotard, she stretched one perfectly articulate leg up on the bar. A long arm reached toward her ballet slipper. Her gray-streaked hair was pulled back from a triangular face turned to the camera. Her nose and mouth were small. Her eyes seemed, because of the darkness around them, to take up the upper half of her face. I could have dealt with it better if she were young and busty, a cherry-lipped bimbo. I could have dismissed her as candy. But Zulya’s dark eyes on the monitor held my gaze; she was someone I could have a conversation with, a mature person with as much claim on Charlie’s heart as his penis.
A few mouse clicks got me to Charlie’s cell phone account. He uses the same password for practically everything. I quickly zeroed in on a number he’d called a lot and I jotted it down.
The next day, I tried calling the phone company to get the name and address that corresponded to this number, but they wouldn’t tell me. I also tried three Web sites that purported to have the information, but the searches turned nothing up. Finally I dialed the number myself.
“Congratulations,” I chirped. “You’ve just won –”
“Sorry, I don’t want — ”
“— a dinner for two at the Ankara Cafe.” As far as I could tell, there was no such establishment in New York, but I remembered from one of her messages to Charlie that Zulya loved Turkish food.
“Absolutely, one hundred percent serious!” I grinned into the receiver. “The Ankara Cafe is dedicated to bringing gourmet Turkish cuisine to the Upper West Side. We’re offering these free dinners as a special promotion to celebrate our grand opening this month, and you’ve been randomly selected. If you’ll just give me your address I will send you your voucher by mail.”
And so she gave me her address in Harlem. On the back of a flyer from our daughter’s school, I jotted it down, reading it back to her for good measure. “Spell your name, please?”
“Z-u-l-y-a,” she said. “K-h-v-o-s-t-e-n-k-o.”
“Thank you very much, Ms. Khvostenko. Your voucher will arrive in five to seven business days. You can redeem it any evening from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., except Fridays and Saturdays.”
“Enjoy your dinner!”
I realized as I hung up that I had never lied so baldly to anyone in my adult life. This wasn’t me, wasn’t my way of being in the world. It wasn’t the way I was brought up. My parents, through all the turbulence of their marriage’s collapse, never lied to each other as far as I know. But here I was, resorting to deception. It made me all the more furious that this behavior of Charlie’s seemed to have rubbed off on me.
And yet I couldn’t stop myself. I began fantasizing about my trip to Harlem. More soon!