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"What do you want?" he asked me. 

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Jonathan Carlson
We were standing on a nearly empty street in Tunis, not far from the school where we were both teaching English to adults. Amine (not his real name), with his lush hair and dark Mediterranean eyes, waited for my answer. It was a good question. What did I, an American-born woman with a husband and four-year-old daughter, want with him, a Tunisian with a wife and child of his own?

My family and I had gone to Tunisia in September 2008 at the insistence of my husband, who was born there. I'd been resisting the move since our wedding nine years earlier, but our situation in New York had recently grown dire. I'd stopped working after my daughter's birth and then my husband had lost both of his Subway franchises to a souring economy. Life in Tunisia, with its low cost-of-living, would be much easier.

But living abroad put a huge strain on our marriage. Left at home most of the day, I would see my husband only when he returned in the evening to pass me the car for work. Twice we tried to go away for a weekend, but ended up calling it off because we'd been fighting.

Enter Amine. Charming. Intellectual. At first, all I wanted from him was friendship. When did it morph into something else? Perhaps that day in the school's darkened computer room when I stood behind him. "I want this man's attention," I thought. Or perhaps a few days later when I felt his hand on my waist, guiding me up the stairs. Within a few weeks of meeting Amine, I found myself dressing up to go to school as though going on a date.

And then came that afternoon on the street in May of 2009 when he asked me that question—"What do you want?" "You," was the answer that flitted through my brain. But it was more than that. I dreamed of our being united in our love for teaching, for art, for each other. But I was unable to articulate this. "I have fantasies," he said. Still, I remained silent. He then went off, hugging me in the crook of his elbow. I felt cheated. I had imagined more would happen.

By this time, my husband knew what was going on. Scared of where my attraction to Amine might lead, I'd told my husband that I had a crush on someone at school. He asked me a few questions about the man's age and nationality and then was easily able to figure out who it was.

On the day before I was leaving for a trip to New York, my husband insisted on coming with me to school to confront Amine outside his classroom. Sitting in a small anteroom, I heard only Amine's voice, soft and placating, floating down the stairway. "Pour être sociable," he said—just to be friendly. To this day, I do not know what else was said, but a few days later a heart-piercing e-mail from Amine came screaming across cyberspace: "DO NOT CONTACT ME. THERE IS NOTHING BETWEEN US. WE CAN'T EVEN BE FRIENDS. GOODBYE. GOOD LUCK." If ever there was a time for me to let go and focus on myself, this was it, I realized. I needed to rebuild my life and my shattered self-esteem. I never communicated with Amine again.

My husband and I are still together. Gradually his love for me has allowed him to forgive me. Sometimes we talk about splitting up, but more often about being together. Am I glad I didn't have the affair? Yes, I think so—most of the time.

Naomi Abrahami is a teacher living in New York City.





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