We met for drinks in downtown Los Angeles. Right off the bat, he told 10 captivating stories all at once. I interrupted, added, redirected him back to plotlines, and together we revealed ourselves in unison. I couldn’t stop giggling, and he couldn’t stop kissing my cheek.
I was intoxicated by his confidence, which he mixed with the right dose of self-deprecation. He was smart. His skin rich like obsidian. That night, in his deep, throaty voice, he told me that it was love at first sight. My sarcastic eye roll didn’t derail him.
“Take all the time you need, Mell, but I know, without a doubt, that I love you.”
So commenced our initial two-year romance. We lived on opposite ends of L.A. County. On his first sleepover, he peeked out from under my sheets with a hearty laugh, “Where the f— am I? Is this Mayberry?” He loved my artsy college-town home, and I craved the freedom of his West Hollywood studio where we drank, laughed, danced and kept each other awake all night.
“I love you and I’m going to marry you. I’m shopping for rings.”
Both in our early 50s, we shared a spirit of mischief. We made love on Malibu beaches and in Palm Springs pools. In Vegas, we danced to a street band, and people clapped. We spent weekends on a boat in Long Beach sipping gin and tonics. And late one night at a dive bar on Pico Boulevard, we befriended the locals who gave us free dinner.
One day I asked why his dad wasn’t speaking to him.
“Because he thinks I’m a gigolo.”
Cue screeching brakes. “What? Why would your dad think you’re a gigolo? Didn’t you say you were a writer, a voice-over actor, a comedian, a hotel bellman?”
My intuition had been telling me from the beginning that he was lying about something. It was pretty obvious. He had two phones (maybe three), disappeared for days, and spent most of his time traveling. When caring for his mom in Texas, he exasperatedly explained how he couldn’t return calls or texts. He took unexplained trips to Germany, New York, Denver and Maine and lost patience when I questioned his whereabouts.
He admitted to being a gigolo, then rescinded, swearing on his son’s life. So I ended it. I was good-natured about my friends’ renditions of a swooning David Lee Roth, but inside I felt crappy. I missed him.
Four months later, I took him back. Despite the obvious bad, there was undeniable good. I missed the way he held me tight in bed and fed me oranges in the mornings. Together we were fierce, but when we were apart, a nagging uneasiness persisted.
It didn’t take long for his disappearances to resume.
Our next breakup was more ’80s-style. I mailed a handwritten note, which as fate would have it, was opened by his longtime L.A. girlfriend. In addition to her, he had another woman in Dallas. Turns out, it was easier for him to suggest he was a gigolo than to admit to loving two other women.
“Haven’t you ever loved more than one person at the same time? They both left me. I only want you. Please stay.”
I felt like the door prize. Third place. I declined.
He called the next week explaining in excruciating detail how his father had unexpectedly died in front of his distraught stepmother. Grief-stricken, he pleaded to see me. Compassion overwhelmed me, and I agreed. In my kitchen, he sunk to his knees holding tight to my legs.
“I need you; my dad just died. I’m sorry I hurt you; hurt people hurt people. I love you more than the others. I was selfish.”
A traitor to my own dignity, I softened and folded my body around him, taking him to my bed. The next morning, I dropped him at Burbank airport, half-written eulogy in tow.
He sent texts from his father’s farm outlining his painful wait for relatives, funeral planning and desire for me. I called him “babe,” telling him I was sorry. But I wasn’t.
You see, the day after the airport drop-off, my intuition took over like a furious mother. I began monitoring the small-town obits and looked for clues online. The stupefying truth revealed itself, and a polite call to his cheery stepmother confirmed that his dad was alive and well — “working in the chicken coop.”
For 10 days, I allowed him to lie so that his audacity would sear into my database of knowledge about the man. With each lie, I realized how little he cared about me.
When I finally called him out, telling him that he was depraved, he said I was overreacting.
“I lied so I could see you. It was worth it.”
He concluded with the old standby.
“I will always love you.”
Sure, he will.
When it comes to love, I suppose everyone is part con man. We smooth the edges of our own stories and choose to believe what people tell us. I wanted to believe him so badly that I neglected my inner voice. That’s on me.
Now I move forward — bruised — but with a new respect for my intuition and a gentle warning to SoCal women. If you happen across a sultry-voiced tall drink of water, run for the hills … or hire him for an acting gig — something for which he truly excels.
The author is the associate director of the Center for Writing and Public Discourse and visiting lecturer of literature at Claremont McKenna College. She’s occasionally on Instagram: @mell.martinez.
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