Devo Diary Chapter Five:
The Con Artist
Another guy responds to my ad. He says his name is Angelo. Ok, not really, Angelo is like his middle name or something, but he's decided recently that's what he wants to go by. He has some sort of congenital muscle condition. He can walk ok but can't use his arms or hands. His family is from Brazil, but he grew up here in Raser City. He says he lives on his own but gets people to come in to help him. Oh, and he is loaded. Rich.
We meet downtown. I pick him up in my car, then we grab some lunch and go to a park to eat. He's not really my type--he has long black hair hanging down his back in tight spiral curls, greasy with product, and a long, deeply tanned face with a prominent nose. I guess he has kind of a Latin lover thing going on, and he seems pretty confident about his appeal to women. Honestly, Bjørn the Viking was really more my type. But this guy Angelo--his arms are curled up against his chest, and I just can't help staring. The whole time we're together, I do everything for him: putting on his seat belt, helping him eat.
I admit, that part was pretty hot. We get burritos for lunch, and as we sit in the park, I unwrap his and hold it up for him to take bites. He keeps looking into my eyes as I'm feeding him. I'm trying to hold back but I'm so turned on in spite of myself.
The whole time we're out, he keeps going on and on about himself--his family, his business and how much money he has. The thought occurs to me that he might be trying to impress me with the money talk. If that's the case, he's way off the mark. I really don't care about things like that. I hardly pay attention to what he's saying.
My own life is kind of in limbo right now. I finished my useless degree, but I'm still not really employable. Luckily for me, Sharon hired me to work in her company. I'm kind of a freelance temp, one rank below the secretaries, but I'm being paid more than double what my grad student stipend had been. The work is boring but so easy, and I can surf the internet and hang out with the other secretaries as much as I want. So even though I'm done with school, I'm still living a slacker lifestyle.
My second date with Angelo, we go out for coffee downtown. He makes fun of me for my scaredy-cat driving, but whatever, I'm the first to admit I'm not a good driver. I've only had the car for about a month, and I hate to drive.
Again he goes on and on about his nieces and nephews, how awesome they are, about his parents in Brazil and how much money they have, and his internet business here. I can't figure out exactly what the company does, but it seems to be doing well.
"I'm worth twelve million dollars," he says as I open the car door for him by the café.
The numbers don't even mean anything to me, but without thinking I say, "Last time you said fourteen million."
He gives me a strange look. "That's twelve million in assets, fourteen in investments."
I just shrug. "I think I have $500 in my checking account." For that I get a pitying look and a speech about how I don't have to live like that--he'll buy me anything I want. I really don't care. There isn't that much that I want. I love my apartment, the rent is low, I have a cushy job that pays ok, and no debt.
At the café, he tells me more about his best friend and business partner, a woman named Brigit Seabrook. The way he talks about her, it sounds like he's in love with her, but he insists they're just friends. Besides, she's married and has two kids.
But all this aside, I kind of feel like I'm falling for him. Just seeing his curled-up arms, and doing things for him, holding his coffee for him, it gets me going.
The third time we meet, it isn't even exactly a date. He happened to be in the neighborhood, he says, with Brigit, and wants to know if he can stop by. I don't see her drop him off because my apartment is at the back of the house. I just open the door and he's there.
I don't have a couch, so we sit on the bed, leaning up against the wall. It feels really strange having him over so soon, when I hardly know him. We didn't talked about the devotee thing before, even though from the ad, he already knows, more or less. Now finally he starts asking me about it.
"So you get off on disabled guys? What disabilities?"
"Um, anything I guess. My first boyfriend was blind, but I like wheelchairs too, anything."
"Even, like, retards?"
"No! Jeez! Don't even say that, come on."
He laughs. "But what is it about, is it the helplessness?"
"I don't know," I mumble, blushing. Of course that's it, or at least part of it, but I can't just come out and admit that to him. "It's just like, hardwired in me or something. It's always been part of me, even when I was a little kid. My favorite movie was Empire Strikes Back because Luke gets his hand cut off." I can hardly believe I'm admitting all this to him, but he just stares at me with his huge brown eyes and I feel like opening up.
"Do you find my disability attractive?" he asks in a low, husky voice.
"Oh god, yes."
He leans toward me. "Can I kiss you?"
I wrap my arms around him, almost propping him up on the bed, and we kiss passionately, madly, for what feels like hours. His lips are so ridiculously full, like a girl's. The whole time, his arms stay against his chest between us and it drives me wild, thinking about how he can't put his arms around me, even if he wanted to.
Too soon, he says he has to go. Brigit will be waiting for him in the car outside. He leaves, then I'm alone, going crazy with desire. The pillows retain the overpowering scent of the essential oils he puts in his hair: lemongrass and clary sage, he said.
For the next two days, I'm in a state of the most intense, continual arousal that I've ever felt in my life. All I have to do is think about Angelo kissing me, the feel of his arms against my chest, and it's like having a mental orgasm. I heard a documentary on NPR about a female-to-male transsexual talking about how the testosterone injections made him almost unbearably horny all the time, so that even the copy machine at work turned him on. As I stand in front of the copy machine at my own job, I know exactly what he meant. That big, humming, hot machine in front of me, my racing thoughts--I felt like I can barely stand up. All I can think of is Angelo, and seeing him again.
For two days, though, he doesn't call. It's agony to be stuck at work, wondering when I might hear from him. From my desk phone, I call my voice mail at home every hour to check for messages. Nothing.
Finally, on the third day he leaves a message: can we meet for coffee again downtown on Saturday? Yes, of course. I would have even skipped out on work, anything to see him again.
We meet in front of a café located on the ground floor of a high-rise filled with offices. Since it's the weekend, it's pretty deserted, but he doesn't want to go inside. Instead, we take an elevator to the roof of the building, where there's a patio with benches and potted plants.
Glancing around a bit nervously, he says, "There's something I have to tell you."
Rather than answering, slowly, like an impossible miracle, or a magic trick, he uncurls his arms and stretches them out toward me.
"You fucking asshole!" I scream, pummeling his chest with my fists and kicking him in the shins. "What the hell?! How could you lie to me like that?"
In that instant of realization, all the little details, all the things that didn't add up, suddenly come together in my mind. His bulging biceps, for one. The way his "disability" as a whole, or the way he talked about it, or the help he supposedly got, made no sense. I had registered all this, but just went along with it anyway. There had even been a moment, when I was driving badly, and he scolded me for driving through a crosswalk when there were people trying to cross.
"A friend of mine got a ticket for doing that," he had said, and even then, a part of my brain said "Yeah right, 'a friend.' You mean you got a ticket," but I had just filed it away with every other discrepancy, willfully ignoring it.
He dodges my attack, while I keep yelling incoherently and sort of half crying.
"Please, stop!" he begs. "Can we talk?"
I look around; there's a man sitting on a bench nearby. Is this part of the set-up? Is that guy a friend, listening in, maybe so he can collect on a bet? My mind races, imagining the scenario: Check out that bat-shit crazy ad. Bet you ten bucks I can make that bitch fall for me.
"Ok, we can talk, but not here," I say. I know I should just walk away, never talk to him again, but I can't change gears that fast. I can't go from obsessive lust one minute to cutting off all contact, at least not without finding out some answers. And it seems like he really wants to talk to me.
We end up going back to my car, just sitting there with the engine off. At least here I know no one else is listening.
"Tell me why," I demand, glaring at him from the driver's seat.
"I saw your ad and I was curious what it was all about," he replies, spreading his arms with his palms up, a show of innocence. I can't stop staring at his hands, and he notices. He waves them around. "Weird, huh," he says with a mischievous grin.
"I can't get used to it," I whisper, almost to myself.
"Look, I'm really sorry," he continues more seriously. "I didn't mean for things to happen this way. I thought you would be some kind of sex freak, but you're so normal." I glare at him angrily. "I mean, you're really sexy," he adds hastily. "And god, when you fed me that wrap in the park, it was so hot."
"It was pretty hot," I admit.
"I really like you," he says. "That's why I had to tell you the truth. I hope you can forgive me, cuz I want to be with you for real. Please?"
I stare at him, considering. Say no, say no, the rational part of me insists, but the residual effect of a week of endorphins is too powerful.
"You have to earn my trust back," I say, trying to sound stern. "But I like you too. I'd like to try." He grins, realizing I've caved. The first thing he does is invite me to his apartment.
So I go home with him. His apartment is in a ultra-modern complex in a swanky neighborhood at the edge of downtown. He assures me repeatedly he has not been lying about how much money he has, and it's clearly an expensive place. Huge picture windows in every room look out over the bay.
The apartment is strangely empty, though. It's clearly lived-in; there are shelves with knick-knacks and lots of photos of kids: his nieces and nephews, he says. But no furniture, no sofa, and no bed, just a few small pillows scattered on the carpet. A large set of free weights and an old hospital-style wheelchair sit in the corner.
"I had knee surgery about a year ago. That was from when I was recovering," he says, following my gaze. "I originally planned on using the wheelchair to meet you, but I didn't think I could pull it off. So I thought I'd just do the arms instead. Did you ever see the movie The Usual Suspects?" He curls up his arms again, but stops when he sees my horrified expression. "Ok, ok, relax! Do you want a soda or something?"
"Why don't you have a couch?" I ask.
He waves a hand dismissively. "Oh, I just can't be bothered. I prefer pillows on the floor."
"For sleeping too?"
"Yeah, it's more comfortable. A soft bed gives me a backache."
I just nod. Ok, whatever. It's a lot to take in all at once. We sit on the floor and watch TV for a while, making small talk. Pretty soon we're making out again, lying on the floor and kissing. It's so strange, him leaning over me, with his strong, muscular arms. I'm not ready to go all the way, though, and he seems to get that without my saying anything. He takes off his shirt and pants, but not his underwear. We make out for awhile, but he doesn't pressure me to go further. Finally, as it's starting to get dark, I decide to leave. I go home, my head still spinning.
Angelo calls me the next evening.
"You sound out of breath," he says.
"I was practicing my fencing," I explain, setting the rapier I've borrowed from Cyril in the corner.
Angelo laughed. "Oh ho, working out your anger at me, were you?" In fact, that's exactly what I was doing, lunging and thrusting the blade around the apartment, but I've not going to admit it. We talk and talk, and gradually he makes me forget how angry I had been about him fooling me. He calls again the next day, and the next. We talk on the phone for hours, then a day later, he comes over and we go out to dinner. He drives this time, and it all seems so normal. After dinner, he comes back to my place, and we make out for a while, but again we don't do much more than kiss. Again he doesn't pressure me to go further, and pretty soon he says he has to go home.
As he's leaving, he says, "Ok, let's go out again on Friday. I'll call you in the morning to let you know what time, then I can pick you up in the evening and we'll go out to dinner."
Friday. It sounds good. He's so attentive and nice, and in spite of all the weirdness, I'm starting to feel like we could have a real relationship. After all, he already knows the most secret thing about me and it seems to turn him on, in a strange way.
But Friday morning comes and goes, with no call from Angelo. I linger at home, waiting in vain, until I'm over an hour late for work. At the office, I call home constantly, but still no message. I call and leave messages for him three times during the day, trying to sound casual and not crazy, but he still doesn't call back. By evening I'm so worked up and anxious I can't eat. Where the hell is he? I pick up the rapier and practice a few lunges, but the memory of how he had teased me make it impossible to lose myself in the exercise. I put it down in favor of just pacing, going over the patterns in the Persian carpet over and over.
By 9 PM I felt like I'm going out of my mind. I can't call him again, and it's clear he has stood me up. I want desperately to talk to someone, but I purposely kept the whole thing a secret from all my friends. Tovia was the only one I had told about the ad, but I hadn't told even him about Angelo. I still don't want to tell him he was right. Instead, I call Rachel.
"Hey, why didn't you come to fencing practice tonight?" she asks.
I take a deep, shaky breath. "Um, can you come over? I really need to talk to you."
And she does, bless her heart. Sitting on my bed, she listens to the whole sorry tale. I have to start at the very beginning.
"So I, um, have this sexual attraction to disabled guys," I say. It still seems unreal to even say the words aloud.
Rachel looks at me a bit blankly. "Well, that's different," she says flatly. Not exactly a ringing endorsement, but in a way her unconcerned response is a relief.
"I've had it my whole life," I continue. "Remember I told you about a guy in college who broke my heart? Well, he's blind, that's the reason I can't get over him. There have been a few others, but nothing serious until now."
She stares at me, her eyes going wider. "It all makes sense now! We always wondered about you, why you never seemed to be in a steady relationship. I thought maybe you were a lesbian."
I laugh. "No, not a lesbian. Well, maybe bi."
"Do you go for disabled women also?"
"No, just guys. I don't know why." We talk about the devotee thing some more, then eventually I tell her about the ad, about Angelo, how he tricked me, then won me back, then stood me up and disappeared.
"You could have told us about this," she scolds. "You didn't have to keep it all a secret. This would never have happened if you hadn't kept it hidden."
"But it's so embarrassing," I wail, crying now. "I was sure you would tell me there was something wrong with me."
"I would never say that. There's nothing wrong with you." She hugs me and I cry some more. It's all too much, everything that happened with Angelo, contrasted with the immense relief at finally telling Rachel and hearing her say it was no big deal.
"But I just don't get it," I say, unable to let go of what just happened with Angelo. "Why would he disappear now?"
She shrugs. "People say 'I'll call you' all the time, but they don't mean it."
"No, this wasn't like that! It wasn't a casual offer. We had specific plans to go out tonight, he just hadn't set the time."
"Forget him," Rachel advises. But I can't. I feel so stupid about all the ways he fooled me, how willingly I went along with the whole thing. But I suppose that's the way a con artist works. Find out what people really want and dangle it in front of them--then it doesn't matter that the details don't add up. The suckers fill in all the gaps themselves. He made me want to fool myself, which was more powerful than any story he could have invented on his own.
But there's the mystery too, and that I just can't let go. I get why he answered my ad and pretended to be disabled, that was probably just curiosity. I've seen online that there are pretenders, guys who get off on pretending to have a disability. This doesn't seem to be the case with Angelo, or he would have wanted to keep on pretending with me. But once he admitted the lie, he seemed uninterested in anything disability related.
And we never even had sex, for god's sake. All we did was make out like a couple of teenagers. Don't guys usually wait until after the sex to pull the disappearing act?
And why get me to fall for him a second time? Was that some kind of sick game, just to see how far he could manipulate me? What about the man on the roof? What was the deal with his apartment? Maybe those were pictures of his kids and he was going through a divorce, that's why there was no furniture. And all that talk about the money, his family in Brazil, his company, were those lies too? It's infuriating not to know.
I have a few strange clues. The last night he visited, he left a pile of receipts he cleared out of his wallet. Why do that? I pore over them, but the only thing I can figure out is that Angelo is not his first name, which I already knew. It's Mark. I try to find leads to another number for him or to find out if his company is real or not, but come up empty, no answers at all. The one other clue I have is Brigit Seabrook. The previous week, her name and phone number had showed up on my caller ID. The call had come while I was out, but rather than a message, all that was recorded was the distant sound of children's voices, as if someone had dialed by accident. Why had she (or someone using her phone) called me? How had she even gotten my number? It's all so bizarre.
Three days later, with still no word from Angelo, I summon up the courage to call Brigit. A child answers the phone.
"Hello? Can I please speak to Brigit Seabrook?" I ask.
"Mom, it's for you," I hear the kid say.
Brigit comes on the line, and I explain what's going on. "Can you tell me what's going on with Angelo? I mean Mark?"
"How did you get this number?" Her tone is frosty, hostile.
"You called me."
"No, I didn't."
"Your name and number came up on my caller ID."
"I never called you."
"Well, anyway, I think there is something strange going on with Angelo, and I want to know what it is. Why did he ask me out? And why won't he return my calls?"
"I think you should talk to him."
"But he won't talk to me. Please, just tell me what's going on."
"I think you should talk to him."
We go around and around like this, but she totally stonewalls me. I get the feeling there is something going on, but whatever it is, she's not going to tell me. What the hell? Is she part of his little mind games? Eventually it's clear she's not going to crack, and I have no leverage on her. I have to give up.
Rachel was right--I'm never going to find out why he played me like that. It's intensely unsatisfying, but I just have to learn to live with it. It's hard to believe all this happened in the space of just two weeks. I burn the receipts and erase Brigit's number.
Postscript, March 2000
I'm perusing the "I Saw U" ads as usual when one jumps out at me:
Angelo or Mark or whatever your name is. Please get in touch. I just want to know what happened. I won't get mad. Please just call me. Cindy.
I wonder if I should call this Cindy, to let her know she'd been had and that it wasn't her fault. What was the bait he used to hook her? How many women has he done this to? I want to tell her it's ok she opened up to him, that she was able to express her desires, even if it was to the wrong person. It could happen to anyone. But in the end I don't call.