The strange story of John

I met John on an airplane in the year 2000.  I was flying to England, in business class on frequent flyer miles.  As I stowed my bags I remarked to anyone listening that the plane was very hot.  A short guy with fluffy gray hair two seats back said, “That’s because it came from California.”

I had an aisle seat next to a large black woman who was sneezing and reading a book on black power.  She did not want to talk.  I don’t sleep on airplanes, and the incessant sneezing would have prevented me anyhow.  The short guy got up and stood near the service area with a drink of water.  I thought he looked interesting, so I got up as well.  We chatted.  He told me he had a house in Forks, Washington (an odd place where it rains all the time) and one in England, that he owned a software company, that he had 3 grown children, had been divorced for 17 years and had not had any female companion since but was looking for someone now to travel with.  We exchanged email addresses.

A few days after I arrived at my daughter’s house in a little English village I got an email from John suggesting that we get together.  I cautiously proposed lunch with my daughter and me at a place of his choosing.  We ultimately met at the pub in my daughter’s village where he treated us both to an elegant lunch.  We found him to be charming and friendly.  My daughter said that in her opinion he was too short.

That was in June.  John and I corresponded by email during the summer and our paths crossed again in the fall when I made a trip to New Zealand to visit cousins.  I had a 5 hour lay-over in Los Angeles and met John there for lunch.  Later in the fall we took a trip together to Borrego Springs.  I was in love.

John said he had rented his house in Forks and would look for a place on Lummi Island.  I went to England for Christmas and he stayed in my house while I was gone.  I called him every day, but for some reason was unable to reach him for a few days around Christmas.  I have now forgotten his explanation of that, but I was troubled.  After I came home we went to Port Angeles to pick up his things (consisting of a number of boxes of tools and papers) at a storage unit.

He went back to England a week or so later and we kept in touch by phone and email.  I could never call him directly.  He said he did not like cell phones and he had a Seattle phone number, a service that took messages.  He said this was because he traveled so much for his business.

The pattern of our life became this: John would come to Lummi for a few weeks and then leave for a business trip.  Sometimes he would be gone for a couple of weeks, sometimes a couple of months.  Most days we spoke on the phone or emailed. I actually didn’t mind this arrangement.  I was independent, and I liked having some time to myself.  My friend Ria said, cynically, “He’s the perfect man, always gone.”

As time passed I became more and more uneasy about his life and past.  The business was murky, and it devolved that, (contrary to what he first told me) he had had several romantic episodes in the past.  One with a woman named Cynthia who worked for him in Chicago, and one in Seattle with a woman named Beatrice who he met on an airplane.  Both, he said, suffered from bipolar disorder, so he took a great interest in books and articles on mental illness.

One night I couldn’t sleep because I was worried about all the inconsistencies of his stories.  I was sure there was something more I should know.  At four in the morning he told me of his son Louis, 9 years old, in Forks.  It turned out that the house in Forks belonged to Beatrice.  Louis was their son, and he visited him regularly, though (he claimed) he and Beatrice were estranged.

During that period I made frequent trips to San Diego to visit my 95 year old mother.  One afternoon when I was there my cell phone rang.  A woman with an odd English accent asked for John.  I said, “He’s not here, he’s in England.”  The woman then said, dropping the English accent, “This is Beatrice,  he’s not in England, he’s here with me.  I found this number in his wallet.”

It was touch and go for a while with me and John.  I told him that he could choose.  Either me or Beatrice.  I said, “I don’t share.”  He chose to stay with me, and thereafter Louis visited us on Lummi.  Beatrice got married.

I became a snoop.  I went through his papers, and there were a lot of them.  Old emails, old records, legal documents, diaries and scribbled notes.  I learned his shorthand.  Detecting became a major pastime for me.  One day I found a paper with names on it.  There was Beatrice, Cynthia, Sheila (his ex-wife), his daughter Sarah, sons Peter and David and the name Issy.  I demanded to know who Issy was.  “Oh,” said John, “she’s my daughter, Isabelle.”

Isabelle’s mother was Erika, a German woman who had lived across the street from John and his wife.  When John separated from his wife he and Erika lived together but never married.  Erika had gone back to Germany with Issy when Issy was a teenager.  Issy was grown up, married and had a son.

And there were 2 more.  Emily in Seattle was the youngest.  She was only 6.  Her mother, Amanda, had been Louis’ baby-sitter.  John had impregnated her while she was baby-sitting his son.  At first he denied being her father and told me some far-fetched story about her parentage.  By this time I hardly believed anything he said.

Amanda and Emily came to visit us when Louis was here.  (I insisted that John get Beatrice’s permission for this.)  Amanda is a lovely person. She lives on disability but is educated and intelligent; she spends her time taking care of her daughter and volunteering at a shelter for feral cats.  Emily is a beautiful child.  She was very shy with John.

And finally there was Leon.  I found a note that said “Leon’s birthday.”  I figured out who Leon’s mother was.  Her name was Melloney.  She had been a business partner of John’s for a while.

By the time I discovered Leon two more important events had occurred.  John’s business and John himself had been sued in England by Ericsson, the Swedish cell phone maker, for work contracted and not done; and John was diagnosed with bladder cancer.  He and his business were bankrupted.  He was ill.  He had to have all his treatments for bladder cancer in England because, when his business went under, he lost the private health insurance with which he provided himself through the business.

By this time I had discovered that he was not divorced at all, but lived with his invalid wife when he was in England.  They had been married for almost 50 years.  One day when Louis was visiting he asked John where he stayed when he wasn’t on Lummi.  John said, “I stay in England with Sheila.”  He was beginning to tell the truth.  Sheila was crippled with arthritis and confined to a wheelchair.  She also had serious heart trouble.  While John was with me, and when Louis was visiting she died suddenly.  John sat, white faced, at the kitchen table when he got the news.  “She was just a kid.” he said wearily.  He himself was dying.  The cancer had spread.

He had radiation treatments in England.  They were said to be palliative since metastasized bladder cancer is incurable.  The treatments were in Oxford and he and I stayed with my daughter for the 5 weeks the treatments lasted.  During this time I met two of the children of his marriage, Sarah and Peter.  David lived in France with his wife.  Sarah and her husband and Peter came for a meal and we all sat in the garden at my daughter’s house.  I met Melloney and Leon as well.  They visited twice and we went to her house.  Melloney was a handsome black woman, originally from Jamaica.  Leon was a lanky, melancholy teenager with dread-locks.

The radiation treatments made John sick.  He never quite recovered from them, and I am not sure they prolonged his life.  He lived only 11 more months.

Issy was the only one of his children that I had not met.  She didn’t know how ill he was.  He kept saying he would call her, but he never did, so I called her in Germany.  She spoke perfect English.  She was concerned.

The above events took place over a period of 4 years.  You will ask why.  Why didn’t I get rid of him right away.  Why did I let myself be fooled for so long.  And when I found out what made me continue with such a person.  The answer is I don’t know.  I loved him and he needed me.  He was frequently a charming companion. We enjoyed many things together, and he was fun at parties. He was a good cook, he did chores, he ironed.  Before he left on his “business trips” he ironed all his clothes.  Beatrice once said to me, “You knew when he got out that ironing board you were in trouble.”

He was certainly a reprehensible character.  He spread his seed around recklessly, fathering children he couldn’t possibly care for.  He loved them intermittently, and he was proud of them, but he was completely irresponsible.  He lived on women.  He wasn’t expensive to keep as his needs were simple, and he tried to do some work — like painting, gutter cleaning, general maintenance — to compensate.  And I have to say it was interesting.

When he got really sick with cancer, around Christmas time, he went back to England.  He had a small apartment there that had belonged to his wife, but her will granted him the right to live in it until he died.  He hoped to recover enough to be able to return to Lummi for a while, but he only got worse, and eventually he had to go into hospice — there was a residential one near his apartment.  Issy came from Germany to visit him there and brought with her his grandson, Christien.

He called me and asked me to come; he didn’t want to stay in hospice; so I went.  He and Sarah met me at the airport and we drove back to his apartment.  He looked thin and ill.  I thought it would be only a few weeks.  He lasted almost 3 months.  The account of those 3 months is my next post.

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18 Responses to The strange story of John

  1. dale says:

    Wow, what an unexpected story. And you so full of sense and balance! I guess you earned it the hard way.

    Wonderfully told. You know what this makes me think of? That Neil Gaiman novel, Anansi Boys. Some people are so charming it just seems like the ordinary rules don’t apply to them.

  2. Tabor says:

    The way you wrote this I can understand why you gave him a break. Clearly he added as much to your life as he took. It was a most challenging relationship but you kept your part.

  3. Rain says:

    Goodness, he was quite the character and I don’t mean that in the eccentric way but in the complex. I figured he had other women from Christmas but amazing not only how many but that he fathered children with so many.

  4. Darlene says:

    What an exciting story. You have certainly had an eventful life. You should put this story in a novel and get it published.

    John must have been extremely charming and I understand why you kept giving him a break.

  5. wisewebwoman says:

    (And I’d just bet the man was a wonderful lover!)

    I loved this story, 20CW, and can totally understand your captivation (and curiosity).

    I’ve seen these types of men with friendfs and been involved with one but he was very smalltime compared with yours.

    They are mesmerizing.

    XO
    WWW

  6. Tessa says:

    You tell this story so calmly and wisely, Anne. From my experience, I suspect there was a great deal of pain involved in loving John, but I also know it was probably worth it in the end. I’m looking forward to reading the next chapter.

  7. Frances says:

    You mention the class that you were travelling in, and of your fellow passengers you note that one was black and one was short.
    A wonderfully American perspective, summarised so succinctly.

  8. Hattie says:

    My instincts have always led me away from charming men. I like responsible guys.

  9. maria says:

    What an amazing story — and the way you told it, too, I never once wondered why you stayed with such a man. You gave a picture of a man with charms and flaws that certainly make him unique, though I have a story of my own with one of his ilk.

  10. You have so many interesting things to share. The thing is, our hearts love who they love regardless of what our heads tell us we should do. I’m so glad you’re sharing this story.

  11. Mage B says:

    You answered our question with the line, “you loved him.” He charmed all of you. Thank you.

  12. Jan says:

    I do believe it’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all as trite as that may be.

  13. Deborah says:

    An utterly fascinating story, told dispassionately and well. No histronics, no self-pity, just the facts. I liked that very much and read every word, something I don’t always do with long posts.

    No human is perfect. If you were able to find some happiness and pleasure from your relationship with John, more so than greif, then who is anyone to say you should have left him? What you don’t really speak of is what it must have done to you to unravel John’s history, to find that you were one of many and that he was not faithful to you. You must be a person who is very confident in herself, and accepting of others.

  14. annie says:

    Wow, unexpected story and well told. Love sometimes allows us to do what we want instead of what we should.

  15. Natalie says:

    Anne, as they all said, you tell the story so well, so matter-of-factly. I recognise so much of it from my own experience, including the becoming a detective! Reading the way you tell it made me laugh but of course it wasn’t funny at all in reality. One day we must compare notes!

  16. Natalie says:

    And, Anne, if you want to have a laugh when you recognise the characteristics of this type of man, see the satirical book I wrote and illustrated on the subject (The Joy of Letting Women Down). You can read some reviews of it on Amazon and on my website but send me your mailing address and I’ll send you a signed copy, with my compliments!

  17. Pingback: The strange story of John, continued at 20th Century Woman

  18. M.E. says:

    Oof! You are some girl, 20th! I just discovered this story by reading the last part, which is currently posted on your blog. Yes, I agree you were in trouble when he got the iron out. Who wouldn’t want a friendly, charming guy who loves to travel and is fun at parties and loves to cook and takes care of his own clothes!? And he was gone a lot, too. Wow. Never mind that he had homes all over the place–complete with wives/women and children.

    What just blows my mind away is how easily you met him. I would no more go hang out by the water cooler in mid-flight to chat with someone I thought was interesting than I’d fly the airplane! In fact, I think I’d have better luck flying the plane!!

    Wonderful story, well told. Hats off!

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