I was publicly dumped after being with someone for years. My next mistake — let's call him the ex-con — was standing on the sidelines, waiting and watching the sordid drama play out. He was friends with my friends: trust fund babies, college acquaintances, assorted reprobates.
The ex-con didn't take sides; he remained Switzerland, neutral. He simply waited until after I was discarded, seriously ticked off and pathetically needy. I was angry with everyone, and he was charming and knew just what to say, since he already knew everyone in my story.
At the same time, I had appointments at City of Hope for some medical tests (adding fear to my witch's brew of emotions). He offered to drive me, but he didn't have a car of his own at the moment. He was borrowing one from a mutual friend while he was staying at the friend's house. That was OK. I had two; he could drive one of mine.
On the drive to Duarte along the 210 Freeway, the ex-con was delightful and attentive. In fact, he was so much fun that on the way home I took him for "thank you" drinks at the Langham Huntington in Pasadena. My treat.
Those couple of dry martinis eventually led to a couple of years. His overnight stays turned into days, weeks and months.
Living with an ex-con did have its upside. He always, always made the bed, and his shirt was always tucked in. Naturally, I didn't think twice about loaning him cashmere sweaters left behind by my former spouse. At some point, he didn't have to go home and get a change of clothes, which was a nuisance in itself since he didn't have a car anymore. The battery in the friend's car had died. We used my AAA card and had it towed back to the owner's residence.
"Why don't you just leave it there?" I asked. "Use one of mine, since I have two. My treat."
"Aw, babe, I don't deserve you," he replied.
Yes, he did.
He had worked hard at conning me, and I allowed myself to become dependent on his companionship and attention.
After a time, the ex-con returned to working in sales. Or so he said. And he did get up and get dressed and leave every morning wearing one of the cashmere sweaters and using one of my cars. But eventually I started to wonder: Where was he really going? Did he really work for an Orthodox Jewish business selling insurance policies?
How does one know if the man with whom one is living is a raconteur? Or a con? Or a gigolo?
My friend Tina gave me the answer.
"I think the woman knows and agrees to support the gigolo. Both sides agree to the deal. With cons it's a one-sided deal. The lady hasn't a clue she's being conned. Or maybe she does and doesn't want to face reality until her checking account balance is screaming zero."
Tina was right. I was at zero. So was my checking account, after spending so much money on him. My desire and my need to believe it all were overdrawn.
My older but much savvier friend Sybil asked me what was going on. I told her bits and pieces while shaking my head in disbelief at my three years of denial.
His father, he said, had been the vice president of Manufacturers Hanover bank in New York. He had attended a military academy and grew up playing golf at the Ridgewood Country Club in New Jersey.
"He told me about his time in one of those country club federal prisons for tax fraud," I told Sybil. "It was one of those great stories that was so unbelievable and funny."
But his stories turned out to be stolen bits from other people. Except for the tax fraud. And the prison sentence.
What finally brought an end to all this? I had to move from the place I was renting when things turned ugly, in a very public way. Needless to say, I didn't take him with me when I changed domiciles.
The ex-con still contacts me. My birthday, his birthday, Valentine's Day, any excuse because hope springs eternal in the House of Rejection. If all else fails, he calls to deliver some dreadful — but I'm sure he hopes, bonding — news about the demise of one of those mutual friends.
After all this, I still believe in love. But my self-preservation mechanism is on high alert. I know the "prose and cons" of a con, and that's why I was able to share this fable.
Now I've moved on to online dating. Like I said, hope springs eternal.
Melissa Berry, a journalist and English teacher, lives in downtown Los Angeles. L.A. Affairs chronicles dating, romance and relationships. Past columns are archived at latimes.com/laaffairs. If you have comments to share or a story to tell, write us at email@example.com.