I knew it was the wrong thing to do. Well, maybe not at first. But then it just snuck up on me, and by that time I was too far gone to make a decent decision. That's what happened with me and Mimi.
We were doing a play together, and you know how those things go. The actors become unusually close, intimate, sharing dressing rooms and reaching deep into their souls to find connection on stage—and sometimes off. I'd been single for some years then, after my first marriage went to dust, so I relished the occasional intimacy.
One day after rehearsal, only Mimi and I were left in the theater, still running lines, when Mimi put down her script and stepped up close to me. "You know, I'm really attracted to you," she said.
Her whispered words really surprised me. "But I, uh, thought you were married," I stuttered.
She smiled at me in a way that was both seductive and sad. I only then fully recognized what an attractive woman she was, dark-haired and intense. "It doesn't matter," she said. "Not to me."
I was both flattered and confused. Flattery won out. "So what do we do now?" I asked.
Mimi moved closer. That's when we kissed.
As the weeks and months went by, our flirtation blossomed into a full-blown romance, with all the joy and pain associated with such things. Well, maybe not all. We weren't sleeping together. Mimi felt that if she held back on this last step, she was, in some way, still being faithful to her marriage. I think we were both feeling uneasy, even scared about what was happening. But we were also in love or some semblance of it. And neither of us knew what to do.
Frankly, I was not sure I wanted to do anything other than enjoy the moments. My experiences with relationships up to that point were not stellar. I had married right out of college to a woman who I quickly discovered I had nothing in common with—including intellectual interests or religion. Two biggies. But with Mimi, we connected on almost every level. Like me, she was Jewish, and we both had recently come back to our roots in the religion. A spiritual path that I had rejected for many years—out of cynicism and dissatisfaction with my own life—suddenly seemed full of hope–and joy.
Then there was the whole artist thing. I was a writer. So was Mimi. I had recently developed an interest in performing, as had Mimi. We had the same sense of humor and could talk for hours. And the more we had to withhold, the deeper our physical attraction grew. I know it sounds sappy, but I truly believed I had finally found my soul mate. "It's bashert," Mimi said. The Hebrew word for fate. I didn't disagree.
The play went well. And after, Mimi and I decided to work together again on a new production that we would write ourselves. We even already had a name for it: "The Two-Headed Person." We were meeting and rehearsing every day. I'd never felt more artistically stimulated. And after rehearsals, it was hard to keep our hands off of each other. It would have been perfect, except for the overriding reality of Mimi's marriage. She had a husband at home. And a young daughter. The whole situation was untenable, maybe even immoral. I tried to convince her to leave her husband, Henry, a college physics professor. "Better now than later," I said. "Clearly you don't love him."
Mimi looked stricken. "I can't do that," she said. "We made promises."
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"It's not something I can talk about. But I couldn't do that to Henry. I just couldn't." She started to cry.
I knew the situation couldn't continue. At least not like it was, and pretty soon Henry figured out what was going on. He called me on the phone. The whole thing felt surreal. He didn't even seem all that angry. Instead his voice sounded reasonable. It didn't fit with the picture of him as an abusive and demanding guy that Mimi had been painting for me. "Look," Henry said, "I can understand how these things happen. But I'd really appreciate it if you would stop now. I mean, enough is enough, right?" I think he may have even chuckled.
"Well, I think that you need to talk to Mimi about all this."
"Yes, definitely," he said. "We've obviously got a lot of work to do."
Now I really felt sorry for the guy. I didn't know what to say. I almost felt like consoling him. "Yeah, well, maybe I can talk to her also. See where we all stand."
"I'd appreciate that. I really would," Henry said. I thought I heard a break in his voice.
When I told Mimi about the call, she was furious. "Goddamn him," she hissed. "Goddamn him to hell." I was surprised by her vehemence.
"Look, maybe we all have to take a step back," I said.
"Is that what you really want?" Mimi moved in close and put a hand on my chest.
"I wish we had met earlier," I said, feeling lame. "I should have fallen in love with you when I was 25."
"Me too, but that's not what we've got."
"So, you tell me: What do you want to do? I think you've got to choose. Henry or me?"
"I just don't know," she said, and began, not for the first time, to cry. "It's too hard."
"Tell you what," I said. "Let's do the show, put all our energy into that, then make a decision."
"OK," she quickly agreed. I think we were both relieved to be able to put the dilemma aside for a time. I know I was, but I also knew somewhere, not so deep down, that what I was doing was wrong, was hurtful, and just plain stupid. If we continued on, it wouldn't turn out well for any of us.
After the run of our somewhat self-indulgent show (which Henry attended—and even applauded heartily) it was time to have the big talk. Mimi and I walked over to a local bar that was frequented by older gay men, a peaceful kind of place. I think we both knew what was coming. "I'm going to return to my family," Mimi said, watching my reaction over the rim of her wine glass."
"Yeah, probably for the best," I said.
"So you're OK with it?" she asked.
"No," I said. "Not OK. I feel shitty. But, it is what it is."
"I hate that phrase," Mimi said. "What does it even mean?"
"Forget it. I was just trying to say that I think you're making the right decision. I wouldn't have had the guts to do it on my own."
"You sound like you're relieved."
"Maybe I am." I stared down at the table. "We can still be friends."
"God, you're full of clichés today." She seemed almost angry. I think it was her way to get through this.
"Don't be." Then her demeanor softened. "I'm the one who should be sorry. Look what I've put you through."
"I've been a willing participant." We both smiled.
"It was a good show, wasn't it?" Mimi said.
"Yeah, it was," I replied. "It was lovely."
She got up then, leaned over and kissed me on the cheek. "See you around?"
"Yeah," I said. "See you around."
We did see each other "around" for a while, but when we did it always felt awkward. We spoke enough for Mimi to tell me that her marriage was doing OK; she and Henry were seeing a couples therapist. I told her I was happy for her. I later started dating another (single) woman—also Jewish, beautiful and smart. We later married.
So maybe it all wasn't really bashert with Mimi and me. And maybe it was, but who were we to try and understand how fate truly works.