True confessions time. I cheated on my wife on Valentine’s Day. Got lucky with another woman. I didn’t mean to do it. It just happened.
I met her sixteen years ago when I was working for WorldCom. I was a fresh-faced kid just starting out in the business world. I looked like Richie Cunningham from Happy Days, only younger.
Susan was an ex-flight attendant turned counselor, consultant and coach. She was… ahem… more mature than me. Graduated high school around the time I was born. Still, we hit it off instantly. Probably because my youthful appearance matched her sense of humor precisely.
We worked in a downtown high rise together. There were many days when we squeezed into a crowded elevator, riding up seventeen floors with eight or ten very business-like passengers. We would all be standing there. Every last one of us. Silent. Watching the numbers click by. Inevitably, Susan would ask me a question in a voice hushed enough to sound as if she was trying to be discreet, yet loud enough so everyone could hear.
“Did the doctor ever diagnose that nasty rash of yours?”
“Were you able to get that stain out of your underpants?”
“Are you still gassy?”
With Susan, you got just what you might expect from someone with such a varied background. The flirty, outlandish flight attendant mixed with the sharp intellectual wit of the counselor. She could joke about her days with Delta, busting passengers who were trying to join the “Mile High Club”, then instantly shift gears and talk about the latest organizational psychology that might help improve the management philosophy of the whole company. She would spice up our department meetings, coming in dressed as a busty, crazed, church lady shouting “Amens” to the rooftops, then break character and offer carefully worded insights that would make us all wonder if she had a secret window into everyone’s soul.
You can see why everyone had a not-so-secret crush on her.
So, when I found out I had a business trip to her new hometown for Valentine’s Day, I had to call her.
“So Susan, it looks like I’ll be coming to town on the 14th. Do you have a hot Valentine’s date planned for that night?”
“Only you, Scott-man.”
“My plane lands at 4:30. I’ll be at your place by 6:00. Do I have the right address?”
“Yes, but I’ve moved to apartment 103.”
“OK. See you then.”
On February 14th, I landed in Dallas, picked up my rental car, and immediately headed toward Susan’s place. I put on a sport coat to try and dress up my travel outfit, and stopped by the florist to pick up an arrangement of flowers. I was in the lobby of her complex at 6:00 on the nose.
I passed by the downstairs restaurant filled with couples and families. Many of the women were decked out in red in light of the occasion, talking across tiny tables. I was a bit nervous about this encounter, so I walked right past, trying to look inconspicuous. Then, I realized that trying to look inconspicuous tends to make a guy look more guilty than walking around in a bright orange jumpsuit. I feigned being normal by stopping a woman in the hallway to ask directions. She was dressed as a nurse.
“Where is apartment 103?”
Nurse Nancy pointed toward the end of the hall, “All the way down, then take a right.”
That was normal enough.
I found the apartment and knocked on the door. I heard her call out, “Come on in!”
When I entered, I heard Susan’s muffled voice from behind a half-cracked bathroom door. “I’m just doing some last-minute primping for our date. I’ll be right out.”
I stood nervously and waited, picking at a wilted petal on a carnation. Then I glanced at a picture hanging on the wall and noticed my reflection. I used the opportunity to straighten the collar of my sport coat and check for food in my teeth, wanting to make a good impression. It’s been a while since I’ve seen her.
A moment later the door opened. She looked up at me with a big smile and said, “It’s so good to see you! What do you think of my hair? It’s going gray, isn’t it?”
“It looks fantastic!”
She reached up to give me a squeeze. I bent deeply at the waist and gave her a big hug and a kiss on the cheek. You see, Susan has shrunk about three feet since our WorldCom days due to the fact that she now gets around in a wheelchair.
It all started a few years ago. Susan went to see a doctor about some minor issues she was having, and he found something wrong with her heart that required an operation. It was a serious surgery, but not an emergency. She was expected to make a full recovery. Around this same time, she tragically lost three loved ones in her life, adding insult to injury.
The surgery went well, but the recovery didn’t. Susan picked up an infection that affected her spinal cord. Since that time, she has spent months in hospitals, rehab centers and nursing homes, literally trying to get back on her feet, yet suffering countless setbacks.
Her body no longer cooperates. She’s lost a lot of feeling in her hands. Her muscles have tightened up. She’s unable to do the work she loves. Or work in her garden. Or comfortably drink from a cup without a straw. This is tough for anyone, but especially so for a strong, independent woman who had lived on her own, built her own consulting practice, and hiked the Grand Canyon on a regular basis.
Susan stood up out of her chair, opened the kitchen cabinet, and pulled out a glass to act as a vase for the flowers.
“I’ve made a lot of progress since I last saw you, Scott.”
She’s not kidding. The last time we had dinner together was over a year ago. At that time, her neck was so tight, she had trouble holding her head upright. All of her movements were deliberate. She could not stand on her own two feet.
“I can walk a quarter of a mile now!”
Then Susan’s exhibitionist spirit came out. She was holding her arms above her head. Lifting a weighted bar. Pacing back and forth in the room with the aid of a walker. If I squinted my eyes, I could see her running frantically through a corporate conference room dressed as that wacky church lady. It was a beautiful sight.
I got lucky. I spent the evening with a dear friend whose body was broken but her spirit was intact. We reminisced about the good old days. Talked shop. She told me how she messed with all the old folks at the retirement home. Especially the ultra-conservative Geraldine, who frequently prayed for Susan’s soul. When she would come by and ask Susan if she would like to play a game in the parlor with the other ladies, Susan would respond,
“How about hide and seek!”
I laughed at the image of Susan hiding from a bunch senile folks.
She was the same Susan, just wrapped in a different package. No. Scratch that. She was an even better Susan. Even warmer and wiser, if such a thing was possible.
After a couple of hours, she told me she was pooped and had to kick me out.
“What?! You mean to tell me I’m not going to get lucky tonight?”
“With these old bones?” She came back. “I don’t think so sonny boy.”
Before I left her room, she gave me her latest business card. Her new title?
On my way out, I walked past the restaurant. It was 8:00pm and the place was empty. The halls were empty. The lobby was empty. I left the building without a soul seeing me.
I cheated on my wife on Valentine’s Day. Shared my heart with another woman. A woman whose spirit inspires and uplifts. A woman whose smile brings life. A missionary who serves others simply by being who she is.
I call that getting lucky.