The guy ahead of me in the checkout lane turns and appraises me. The handcuffs, locked around his back belt loop, clink against my grocery cart.
"Hey," he says, offering a nod.
"You a cop?" I ask. I'm bored.
"Nope. Not a cop." He smiles.
"Why the handcuffs?" I have no trouble striking up conversations.
"Hmmm ...," he says, unlocking them. "Wanna see a magic trick?"
"Sure." I add a bit of flirt.
He removes the handcuffs from the loop and in a second, locks the handcuff around my wrist, clicking the other half around his grocery cart handle.
"Fifty-two, sixty-five," the cashier says to him, but her eye is on me.
He hands her cash while I wait for the handcuff trick. Clever way to meet people. Why hadn't I thought of that?
The transaction is complete but instead of the magic unlock, he quickly exits the store with his bag of groceries.
"Hey!" I call after him. "Hey! Real funny! Ha ha. Hey, you! Come back!"
"What's that about?" the cashier asks. "He your boyfriend?
"I just met him seconds ago. I asked about the handcuffs and this is what he did," I say, miffed. "He'll come back, right?
The checkout woman shrugs.
"Do I go after him? Drag the cart with me?" I scan the parking lot from the line. He's nowhere. "Can you call the manager, please?"
"Michael to checkout three," she says into a store telephone. Her voice on the loud speaker reverberates around the store.
What can the manager do? Nothing. Nevertheless, that's my first instinct. I'll need to call a locksmith then sit in Safeway for an hour, handcuffed to a grocery cart. I visualize the phone call to my husband. "Hi Joe ... I'll be home a little later than usual ... I'm handcuffed to a shopping cart." And Joe would think, "What's she gotten herself into this time?"
A tap on my shoulder corrals my attention. Is it him? I whirl around.
"Excuse me." A small, gray-haired woman behind me offers a wrinkled smile. "I'm supposed to give you this." She hands me the handcuff key along with a folded piece of paper.
"Who gave you this? Was it that guy in front of me?"
"Honey, I can barely remember my name."
I scan the store. He must have sneaked in. I unlock the cuffs and drop them in my purse. I stash the key in my wallet.
"That's a cool pickup technique," the cashier says. "Sixty-forty."
I hand her my debit card. As she does the transaction, I unfold the paper.
"Ain't magic grand? Phone me sometime when you're free. Andrew. 555-8465."
Let me say this. I'm discontent but don't know why. On occasion, I'm overwhelmed with such emptiness that it's hard to stay clean. Neither drugs nor alcohol run me. My addiction? Infatuation. What feeds it? Sexual affairs.
It's not that I have a ferocious appetite for sex. Or even that I like variety. It's just that in some odd way, I feel temporarily sated during a tryst. I wander in the mysteries infatuation brings and seek it out when I need a 'fix.'
Driven by the darkness that rides my back, I'm like everyone else who wears angst like an albatross. I'm just trying to make it through the night. When this unquenchable thirst began, I don't know. I have no memories of my childhood prior to my adoption. My adoptive parents have always been good to me.
Many therapists have tried to convince me that I've repressed molestation. I don't remember it and I doubt it. I simply want someone to fill the void in my chest. This emptiness within feels ancient.
The hunger worsens when the moon is full. My anxiety heightens. Sometimes I pace, but often I drift into a haze that swirls into jagged, fragmented images. A kaleidoscope of unease. My spirit is untamed but trapped. The temporary antidote is to escape into the arms of a lover.
"Hey, babe." Joe barges into the kitchen. "Damn, it's good to be home. Nothing up this weekend which is fucking awesome."
As far as Joe's concerned, most words start with the word 'fucking' in front of them. Everything is "fucking cool, fucking trip, fucking drag." I've told Joe that this bothers me but he can't seem to stop. Some say he's passive-aggressive. I don't think so. Conflict is unusual between Joe and me. We try to accept each other, flaws and all.
I stand on tiptoes to kiss him. He's six feet tall. A giant compared to my own five-feet-five height. Blonde-haired with blue eyes and all-American boy-next-door looks. He tries to 'bad-boy' his appearance by spiking his hair and wearing mirror-lens sunglasses whenever he's out. Lately, he's been talking about going platinum. Why not? He'd look fab.
We're a great team. I'm lucky. Most of my friends live with husbands they barely like. I find that frightening. My issue over the word 'fucking' doesn't amount to much juxtaposed with the unhappy marriages my friends have.
"Chinese sounded fucking great," he says, placing two bags on the table. "So I picked some up for us."
I gather dishes and silverware and we move to the family room. He likes background noise and clicks on the TV. I call it mental clutter but compromise.
I plow through Szechwan prawns and snow peas, Mongolian beef and pot stickers. My favorite part of a Chinese dinner is the fortune cookie, which oddly enough, I'm prone to believe. I'm not quite finished with dinner when I break one open and unravel the thin paper. I'm a sucker for instant gratification.
“Looks like I’m going on a journey.” I toss the fortune on the coffee table.
Hmm ... I'd like to go to the forest. The sensation of running down a trail, the scent of the trees as they bow in the breeze, the birds diving. I love the soft moss entwined with fragrances from large, leafy plants, bouquets of wild flowers, streams of light filtering through the trees and the sound of insects singing in harmony.
“Did ya have a good day?" Joe asks.
A racecar driver, Joe spends his days at the track, focused and on target. Once home, Joe is content to fall into his big, lush chair and relax. He's not a forest kind of guy. My job as a hairdresser keeps me scrambling as well, but my body responds by riding the energy. It never seems to dissipate.
A walk in the woods suits me. Unfortunately, we don't live near a forest and a walk around the neighborhood does nothing to soothe me. Often, I'll stop by a favorite boutique on my way home from work. This reduces my high-speed hairstylist mode to a calmer state. Contrary to popular belief, I'm not a shopaholic. As long as I veer from the boutiques when I feel driven to shop, I'm fine.
"Picked up a few things at Safeway," I reply nonchalantly. I doodle handcuffs and hearts on a piece of notepaper. "Look what I found today." I grab my purse and pull out the handcuffs.
"Whoa," Joe says. "Fucking cool. Where'd you find them?"
"In the Safeway parking lot."
"Key?" Joe's says with a devious smile. "We could have some fun with those."
I dig in my purse, retrieve the key and hold it up.
"Key," I say, batting my eyelashes.
I toss the handcuffs to him and drop the key on the coffee table.
"See you upstairs?" I tease.
"I'm right behind you." Sex wraps around each word.
Making the call to the handcuff guy is not the problem. It's the 'leave a message' part that creates havoc for me. I hate rejection. If I leave a message, I make myself vulnerable. It can get dicey. What if he doesn't call back? Does it mean he's lost interest? Lost my number? Loss track of time? Will I, like a fool, have to call him a second time? I won't want to, but my damn addiction will.
I promise myself that I'll call, and if I don't get him, I won't leave a message. It's like dancing barefoot on a cactus. I'm thrilled that I'm dancing, but am all too aware of the pain in each step.
I make the call to Andrew. The answering machine clicks on. His voice is honey-sweet. Without saying a word, I hang up. Good for me. After twenty minutes, I call back. His answering machine picks up again; I hang up, wait fifteen minutes and try again. Another fifteen, still the answering machine. Frustrated, I break down and leave a message.
"Andrew, this is Veronica Armatti. We met ... you ... ah ... handcuffed me ... yesterday at ... ah ... Safeway." (God only knew how many women he handcuffed yesterday. Best to distinguish myself.) "I got your note and would like to ... you can call me at 555-6336."
Why did I just do that to myself? I lose my concentration for one second, my addiction takes charge, and I end up betraying myself.
"You put us in this predicament," my addiction chastises. "We had no choice but to leave our number. It's the only way to placate you. We both know it."
My addiction has a valid point, and I agree wholeheartedly, but sometimes things happen differently than planned. I'm in the exact position I had hoped to avoid—waiting for his return call. Anxiety takes a bow. I stumble around in my own demise. Why not just cha-cha blindfolded on the edge of a cliff?
I keep my cell phone close.
Haircuts and color; my schedule's full. Even so, I keep an eye on the phone. He hasn't called. Has he changed his mind and lost interest in me? Was I just another sucker who fell for his tricks?
He has no idea what his call means to me.
I get as sick as a druggie when there's no one available, and I need a fix. Most people don't understand these dynamics. For them, sex is a choice. Even if I promise myself I won't 'act out,' desperation swallows me. One minute my resolve is set—I will not call—the next, I'm on the phone dialing a fix.
Joe married me knowing about the addiction. He's aware of the years of therapy, meditation, dance, sex and love addicts' meetings, writing, exercise—everything I've done to conquer the demons inside me.
Accepting me for who I am, Joe gives me complete freedom. He doesn't want to know if I'm "up to no good." Don't ask. Don't tell. That's our arrangement. He won't ask if I'm dancing with my darkness, and I make sure he never finds out. Deal.
My ability to compartmentalize is remarkable. I slip into "Joe's wife" at home and the "carefree lover" when in the arms of another. I have two sides and am relaxed in both. I'm good at shape-shifting. It's the lies I detest.
I love Joe. My happiness is his priority and his, mine. He cooks for me. Listens to me. Supports me in being authentic. I would change my behavior if I could. God knows, I've tried. I once had a psychic tell me if I didn't stop the affairs, I would "burn in hell for eternity." Even with that, I can't stop.
Although I have the freedom to have lovers, I still feel like a cheat, a betrayer, a liar. Uncomfortable with myself, I'm driven to fix. Part of me feels completely undeserving of Joe's love. I'm a traitor. A keeper of secrets. A builder of walls. If only I could be normal. If only one man was enough. But the burning, the aching that pushes me into the arms of another is relentless.
Unlike other drugs, the high from infatuation disperses quickly. Even when I'm being loved, being touched – something deep and unrecognizable is missing. Always.
I'm only twenty-eight, but I feel ninety. The struggle with myself ages me.