“This is Chef Man’s girlfriend, Amy. The one he’s lived with for the last five years and has a daughter with. Call me. We need to talk.”

I started shaking when I listened to the message from the unfamiliar phone number.

Chef Man is… was… shouldn’t have been the gentleman I thought I was dating this past year. Apparently, I was only a distraction, a fantasy, an escapist drug from another life.

“Um… I just got a call from Amy,” I text Chef Man. He was at the restaurant, busy closing. Or that’s what he said. With the mounds of lies he has told me, he could have been clubbing baby seals in his basement.

My phone rang again. Same number. I didn’t answer.

I listened to the voicemail. The verbal vomit of an injured animal oozed from the speaker. I know her words. I know the phone call. I know the pain. I know the shriek, the high-pitched, not-in-control terror of her words.  I’ve made the same phone call she made to me — five years earlier to The Wizard’s other woman.

I couldn’t stop shaking.

I called Chef Man. Fuck the busy closing the restaurant crap. It was time for truth. The call went to voicemail.

“I just got another call from Amy,” I tried to keep my voice steady, tired not to let my own wounded animal out. “What the fuck is going on? I don’t mess around with other women’s men. We need to talk NOW.”

My phone dinged with a text: “I’m on my way.”

Five minutes later he was at my door.

We sat on my couch, the place where just hours earlier we lounged with fingers intertwined. Now, I sat at one end, my knees pulled to my chest; he sat at the other end, tears brimming on his eyes.

“I live with Amy, our daughter and her two kids. I knew if I told you, you wouldn’t see me.” No shit, Sherlock.

I didn’t say a word. I tried to make my space on the couch as small as possible, lessening my footprint in the world to avoid the impact of his words. I knew about their daughter together. I knew about Amy. The story I got was that they broke up two years ago. He had his daughter on Monday and Wednesday nights. She didn’t do overnights with him yet because she was so young. I didn’t know he and Amy were still together.

“I didn’t mean to fall in love with you,” he said. “But I did. Your voice, your lips, your intelligence. I just wanted someone to have conversations with. I fell for you.” Fuck you. That’s the same thing I heard from The Wizard about his other woman. 

“My plan was to get the house finished then leave,” he said. “I’ve slept upstairs, in the basement, wherever I can. I hate that place. I hate being there. I hate being with her. My brother and sister-in-law keep asking me why I don’t leave. I am so sorry.” Yeah, Genius, where are your fucking balls? Be a fucking man. Only cowards do what you do. 

My voice squeaked, hardly above a whisper. “Please tell Amy how sorry I am. If I would have known…” The tears started pouring. “If I would have known, I would have never… Please tell her how sorry I am. I’ve made the phone calls like she made. I know the pain. Please tell her… Please tell her I know the pain. I am so sorry.”

“I will.”

I continued to sit on the couch, still shaking, a warm cup of tea in my hand, when Chef Man got up to leave. The door closed. I took two more sips of tea, then sent the Bat Signal up in the recovery sky.

“Who’s still awake? I need to talk,” I texted my sober recovery friends. Less than a minute later, I was on the phone with a good friend explaining the details.

“It’s not your fault,” she said. “You asked the questions. You verified the best you could.” As I talked to her, more phone calls and texts from recovery friends came in.

I am not alone.

I won’t reach out to Amy. I can’t. Anything I said would create more harm. So… I write this for Amy and for all the women who have been in her shoes… and in mine.

Dear Amy–

As a wise friend once told me: if I was truly sorry, I wouldn’t have done it in the first place. I’m sorry are just words. But, they are all I have right now. I am so sorry.

When Chef Man first contacted me, I asked him directly if he was married, separated, attached in anyway. He told me about his ex-wife and that he was divorced in May. He told me about you and that you hadn’t been together in two years. I believed him.

If I would have known, I would not have engaged in any way with him. I asked on multiple occasions about his past relationships. I asked about you. I asked about his ex-wife. He always told me you were one of his ex’s. I thought I did my due diligence.

A couple of months ago, my gut instinct started screaming at me that something wasn’t right. I started asking more questions. On the night you called me, I was preparing to break up with Chef Man because I knew something wasn’t on the up and up. What I didn’t know was that something was you.

I’ve been in your shoes. I’ve made the phone call you made. I know the gut-wrenching pain. I was left for The Other Woman.

It’s hard for me even to conceive of myself that way — The Other Woman. It’s not what I thought I was. It’s not what I wanted to be. It’s not a title I would ever choose for myself. I never intended to hurt you or your daughter.

I didn’t know. I swear to you: I didn’t.

Please know you deserve better. You deserve a man who will respect you and give you the relationship you want. You deserve the very best of the best. You are in my prayers. Every night I ask God to give you the strength you need to have peace in your life.

I am so sorry.