By Dean Haspiel

She was my ex-girlfriend’s best friend and she had two baby daughters. One of the last times I saw her, she asked me to take nude photos of her 8-month pregnant body for posterity before giving birth to her first child. No matter how innocent that photo session was, her husband wasn’t happy that we had done that. After my girlfriend broke up with me, I lost contact with her best friend, too. Then, when I was told that my ex-girlfriend broke up with her best friend, I had to find out why. Maybe it would give me a clue as to why my girlfriend had broken my heart.

Upon seeing her after a five-year hiatus, I fell in love with her, instantly. She was separated from her husband and starting the long and ugly process of divorce. We once joked that I was getting revenge on my ex-girlfriend by dating her ex-best friend. In the first year of dating, we kept our affair quiet because she didn’t want our relationship to ruin her divorce proceedings and that’s how I became “Mr. Secret Boyfriend.”

I would bike over to her beautiful home in Park Slope after “the girls were put to bed” and we would watch a movie or just talk about the day and make love. She wasn’t ready for her daughters to see me in the morning so I would get back on my bike and ride home, twenty minutes away. Every time I got home, I saw a blinking light and knew I had a message waiting for me on the answering machine.

She would leave a long voice message about how nice it was that I came over and how sorry she was that I had to leave her home late at night but that’s the way it had to be for now. I often used those 20-minute bike rides home to think about the possibility of us and dream of the day we could live together and make a new home and family. Her voice messages inspired me. I counted on that answering machine to deliver hope and promises.

I didn’t have a cell phone then and I didn’t know who was calling when the phone rang. We used to make plans and meet up at places and, if one of us was late, we waited for the other to arrive. Life wasn’t as fickle as it is in today’s attention deficit world. Nowadays, people text message me when I can’t afford it and, sometimes, people call apologizing that they may be interrupting me. “Is it okay that I called your phone?” What is a phone for? I realize my response is redundant and I’m reminded that phones do so much more than make and receive calls. Today’s phones have reduced some people’s entire careers into that of an application that you can buy for two-dollars. Who needs to hire a professional photographer when you can use a phone and a filter? Who needs to go to film school when you can point and shoot?

When I stopped being “Mr. Secret Boyfriend” and her daughters knew I was their mother’s main squeeze, the late night phone calls to my answering machine began to slow down and eventually stopped. I started to sleep over and help out with some of the family chores and my desires to have a baby with her were quickly forbidden. She already had two girls to raise and didn’t want any more. She didn’t want to get married after her divorce, either. An understandable reaction to a failed marriage but I didn’t think it would last long.

When I finally joined the 21st Century and got a cell phone, I decided I didn’t need my land line anymore. I was about to unplug the answering machine when I remembered it always saved the last recorded message. For old times sake, I pressed the play button and her voice appeared from a year ago. She sounded different than the way she spoke to me these days. Her voice was delicate and thankful and understanding. Her words were filled with hope and promise. I wanted to ask why things had changed but I didn’t want to know the answer.

–Dean Haspiel