It's a tough thing to explain to people that you're 30 and aren't married and don't have any serious prospects for a wife on the horizon. Geez, there are people who have two divorces under their belts by age 30 and I hadn't had a serious girlfriend let alone walk down the aisle.
Those who were so concerned with my marital status began to think I wasn't being picky as I had claimed but either had commitment issues or was just plain unlovable. The more time that went by the more the whispers swirled around me from those that speculated why I wasn't married.
Then there were those who tried to fix the problem by fixing me up with single women they knew. If you ever want to know what others think of you and how they see you, have them fix you up on a blind date. I had a strict no blind dates rule and it was well known. There were two occasions after I turned 30 that I wore down in response to the constant badgering by the fixer-uppers in question. In both circumstances the dates were a disaster...the women who were "just perfect for me" weren't even close to being a good match for me nor I them. After those two blind dates, my rule against being set up went back into place and was never waived again for anyone regardless the length or intensity of the badgering.
The worst times were weddings, and there were many of them. I had to go because the weddings either involved friends, family, or co-workers...people you have to show up for. Sitting in a pew during the ceremony and in a folding chair at the reception and dance without a plus one was excruciating. Looking at all the happy couples dancing and laughing and having fun and seeing the single women having a good time without needing to include me in their post-wedding festivities. Then I began to wonder if I was being too picky or was just unlovable. My self-esteem plummeted. I'm a good looking guy so why can't I get a second glance from women? What is wrong with me?
An answer didn't present itself to me so the only thing I knew to do was to throw myself into my work and pursuing my graduate degree which only proved to be a distraction but did nothing to stem the tide of ever-increasing bitterness and hurt...and anger. It's one thing if I knew why I was so hideous to women but I had no clue.
Once Sunshine walked into my life and her attraction to me became clear, I still didn't know why other women weren't attracted to me but I knew very well that Sunshine was. And I knew that such an extraordinary woman was one who I didn't want to let go. This was my chance - maybe my only chance - to get the happily ever after I had been seeking. No one and nothing was going to take away this chance at the one woman who had been so unexpectedly and delightfully dropped right into my life.
Once Sunshine and I began our affair, things changed for sure, it was amazing to see how other women suddenly took an interest in me, noticed my looks and talents, and wanted to spend time with me. Why I'm not sure but perhaps it was the new confidence I had knowing the answer to my question is "picky". When Sunshine and I went public my attractiveness to other women skyrocketed. But that's another story for another time.
Experience the Sunshine Affair series at Amazon.com. Get Sunshine: Diary of An
I'll keep you my dirty little secret (Dirty little secret)
Don't tell anyone or you'll be just another regret (Just another regret, hope that you can keep it). My dirty
“Dirty Little Secret” The All-American Rejects
When I first brought my story to Caulder for him to tell, I described the experience I'd had as a mixture of Mission Impossible, Covert Affairs, Titanic, and Days of Our Lives. In short, a mess. But what an incredibly exciting mess it was.
Growing up, one of my bucket list items was not "have an affair". After I met Tina and knew she was the woman I'd been waiting to meet since the moment I was first named, it was surprising how quickly my morals, ethics, and standards went flying right out the window. We both had a wild streak - hers easily seen, mine always under the surface. Being around Tina brought my wild streak out because I knew that no matter how wild my streak was, it would never scare her and it would never be larger than hers. She was a constant challenge to keep up with and I loved every minute of it.
I've always loved spy movies with their cloak-and-dagger intrigue as the hero tried to not only stay one step ahead of the villain but to run circles around him, enjoying the fact that the villain had not a clue where the hero was or what he was up to. There might be suspicion but no way to prove anything. The villain in this case was Sunshine's husband who proved day after day what a dick he was by the way he mistreated her but also how he didn't deserve a woman like her. Sunshine's husband was my constant source of amusement, my new hobby, driving him crazy by keeping him wondering what we were doing, but mostly by his futility in proving anything was going on between us. We were sneaky and good at being sneaky. The danger of being discovered always fed our drug of choice - adrenaline. We were almost discovered so many times but every time we managed to avoid discovery by one of Sunshine's eyelashes.
Sunshine and I loved the skulking around in the dark, discovery nearly around every corner. Our late-night rendezvous at any number of locations, our secret signs in public, our phone conversations after her husband had gone to work and her kids to bed. Being the "other man" was thrilling, knowing it was me she really wanted to be with because she wouldn't go through all this effort for any other man than me. An ego boost to be sure.
Being Sunshine's undercover lover didn't come without it's downside because I felt many times as though I was also her dirty little secret - a man she couldn't talk about because she might say too much and our affair would be revealed. So many life moments I wanted to share with her I couldn't because discovery meant and end to our relationship and not because her husband would have found out about us but her family, her friends, her church. Being Sunshine's dirty little secret was a gamble and risk I was willing to take because I knew if she got divorced, the way was paved for a happily ever after for us.
Until the day came when the villain did the unthinkable and damn near killed her because of her dirty little secret. The problem with driving a villain crazy is that they can do crazy and violent things in response. And that's when the mess began.
Experience the Sunshine Affair series at Amazon.com. Get Sunshine: Diary of An
“If you could only see the way she loves me then maybe you would understand, why I feel this way about our love and what I must do. If you could only see how blue her eyes can be when she says…when she says she loves me.” - Tonic, "If You Could Only See"
When I approached Caulder, told him about the Sunshine Affair, and showed him my journals, he was surprised and confused. Surprised that I did what I did but also confused cuz he questioned why I would put up and go through all I did with her. I understand his confusion because I was often confused during my relationship with Sunshine. But the questions remain: Why did I stay with her? Why did I not just walk away? It's not like I didn't have any chances to do so.
Tonic's song sums it up. Sunshine loved me as no other woman had. In all honesty, I was not what you would call a successful dater. Until Sunshine walked into my life, I had doubts whether I would ever find a woman to be "the one". To find out she was married was an insult to my injury but then to find out she wanted out of her marriage and was attracted to me was a sliver of hope that I wouldn't have to spend my life alone. It was no secret, she was as attracted to me as I was her. When she declared her feelings to me, it became my goal to make her mine. No matter what I had to go through to do it.
Being with Sunshine wasn't easy. Sure, our friendship was very public but our feelings and our actions were very private. We had to put on this act in public to keep her husband and those around us without arousing suspicion. My invisibility was to our benefit until her husband and attacked and almost killed her. Then my invisibility became my prison because to come out of the shadows after her attack would have brought more attention, more complication, and maybe an excuse for her husband to justify his criminal actions and the community fuel for their gossiping fire. At every turn I wanted to help her but couldn't because my presence would only have complicated her life.
Then there was the constant ride I took in the Tinacoaster with all the emotional highs and lows, twists and turns, and all the stomach-turning, gut-wrenching moments that went with it. Every moment away from her was filled with anxiety, wondering if she was safe and worrying that she would break things off with me - again. Every moment with her was filled with anguish knowing I had been a part of the cause of her current predicament and worrying she'd blame me or - worse yet - he'd attack her again.
I rode the Tinacoaster for years, not getting relief from the anxiety and anguish except during those moments when we were together. When we were together at my place or even at The Club, it made all those other moments worth it. Being with Sunshine chased all those negative things away because I was reminded of how good we were together and that, once all the mess her life had become had been cleaned up, our future was going to be one both of us had always wanted. And when we were together, you should have seen the way she loved me. Maybe then you would understand.
Experience the Sunshine Affair series at Amazon.com. Get Sunshine: Diary of An Affair here:
Turn off the sun, pull the stars from the sky. The more I give
to you, the more I die. And I want you. And I want you.
And I want you. And I want you…without you everything
just falls apart. “The Perfect Drug” – Nine Inch Nails
We all have a moral compass and guideposts and rules we base our lives upon. We hang so tightly onto our compass and guideposts and rules until we become so desperate to have that one thing we crave so much and then all of those things we had clung to so passionately get thrown right out our moral window. Funny what desperation can do.
So much is said about a woman's biological clock ticking once they hit 30 but not much is said about men like me who struggle not with a ticking clock but with the slow, constant drip of rejection. It's one thing to not be married by age 30 but to not have a girlfriend by age 30? Devastating. It wasn't a case of women not "getting me" - understanding me - but no woman was interested in "getting me". That type of soul-crushing indifference became greater with each day farther I got past my 30th birthday. And then came Tina, who walked into my life as I approached 31.
As Tina and I got to know each other, I wanted to know more about her and - amazingly - she wanted to know get me more. Better yet, I believed she actually understood me. It was a rare type of joy I experienced when I realized there was a woman out there for me...she just wouldn't be Tina because she was married. Admittedly, that put a damper on the joy I felt. But then imagine the joy when I learned that not only did Tina want to talk to me, spend time with me, but she wanted be with me. Oh sure, there was a little problem - she was married - but that problem didn't seem too big as she was unhappy in her marriage and thinking of getting out.
And that's when I tossed my moral compass away, my guideposts and rules following right behind it. Early on in life I had drawn a line in my mental sand, saying I would never have an affair...would never get involved with a divorced woman, would never break up a marriage. None of those pledges to myself meant a damn thing when it came to Tina. She became my only shot at happiness, my only hope to find a woman who loved me, who would create a life with me. I grabbed onto that feeling and wouldn't let it go.
The more time I spent with Tina, the more time I wanted to spend with her. The more I got to know Tina, the more I wanted to know about Tina. The more I talked with Tina, the more I wanted to talk with Tina. Call it love, call it devotion, call it obsession...I called it addiction. No doubt, I was addicted to the feeling of euphoria Tina brought to me and, like any junkie, I would do anything I had to do to get my next fix, to make sure I always had access to my drug of choice.
Before she finally left her husband, doubt ruled Tina's life. It wasn't unusual for her to try to put distance between us when her doubt ruled her, which was far to often for my liking. It was during those times I hit bottom emotionally, feeling that if I didn't have Tina then any chance to be loved was gone for good. And I was not going to let that happen. I couldn't. I'd thrown away nearly every belief I had just for a chance to be with Tina. I just didn't know how far I would go or how out of things would get because my morals had been expendable.
See just how far I went in Sunshine: Diary of An Affair http://amzn.to/11K07iD
I’ve realized one thing, how much I love you and it’s hurts to see, to see you crying.
I believe we can make it through the winds of change…and if you just hold
on I won’t let you fall. - “That Lonely Road of Faith” – Kid Rock
The easy part for Sunshine and me was admitting we had feelings to each other. The difficult part was getting Sunshine emotionally comfortable that her life would not crumble around her if she left her husband to begin a new life with me. The challenge was not any feelings of love for her husband that kept her from leaving him, no, the challenge was her fear and anxiety over how her life would change and if she were able to trust any man again but also the fear of stymatizing her children. She had read all the studies about the adverse effects divorce has on children. Sunshine didn't want her kids to be statistics. She wasn't sure how those around her would react and she thought she'd be doing more harm to her kids in her leaving their father than doing good if she chose to stay and be miserable in her marriage.
I never tried to diminish those issues and feelings because they were valid concerns. What I tried my best to do is to reassure Sunshine that reality would be much less harsh than her fears and that she would not be going through this alone; that I would be with her every step through the process. Her belief and hope would barely register on any measuring device so I had to pour my belief and hope into her - to show her a brighter tomorrow without her husband in it.
I had never been married, hell, I hadn't even had one serious relationship before meeting Sunshine so there were numerous times I was blowing smoke out my ass. BUT the one thing that was the absolute truth was that I was going to be there for Sunshine in whatever way she needed me. Sunshine needed to believe that I meant it when I said she could trust me to be there, to not run away from her when her life got ugly, to catch her if she stumbled. It took a long time for her to understand I was serious about that but she did.
And I was. I was beside her the whole way. The problem for me was that I had blinders on, only thinking about a life with Sunshine, and ended up taking too much for granted. I'd had many friends - the majority of them women - who had gone through divorce and some of the divorces were brutal. But, based on those friends' stories and experiences shared with me, I thought I had Sunshine's situation covered. All I had to do was remember what my friends had told me about their divorce experiences and be able to counter Sunshine's same experiences with my friendship, love, and belief. There were so very many miscalculations and assumptions I'd made early on when Sunshine and I began our relationship. Those miscalculations came back and bit me in the very backside the smoke came out of and - worse yet - damn near got Sunshine killed. I never took her husband's reaction to Sunshine leaving him to the extreme conclusion, I just figured he'd come after me and we'd settle it like men.
And I was wrong. So terribly, terribly wrong. Instead of being the calm in her storm, I managed to create a bigger storm than either Sunshine or me could have imagined in our worst nightmare-scenarios. See just how bad the nightmare scenario got in Sunshine: Diary of An Affair http://amzn.to/11K07iD
"Turn off the sun, pull the stars from the sky.
The more I give to you, the more I die.
And I want you. And I want you. And I want you.
And I want you…without you everything just
falls apart." Perfect Drug - Nine Inch Nails
So many chats, talks, conversations. So many topics covered. So, what is the one that I think about to this day? The conversation when Tina first said the "A" word: Affair.
It surprised me when she mentioned it because we had been so careful to avoid the circumstance and the term. As the attraction between us grew, we were even more careful about what we did or - more accurately - didn't do. We didn't touch, we didn't kiss, we didn't engage in any physical contact because there were lines we didn't want to cross while she was married. Plus, Tina hadn't made up her mind to leave her husband so we didn't want to complicate things for her if she decided to stay with him. Having an affair was on my not-to-do list and I was doing my best to stay true to the list so you can imagine my confusion when Tina lamented us having an emotional affair.
We were seated on my couch when she said it. The words didn't have time to hang in the air before I replied: "A emotional...what?"
Tina looked at me with a little bit of a smirk knowing how naive I was about relationships. I figured an affair happened when there was physical intimacy or sex. None of that had happened between us but yet Tina was saying that we were having an affair. Tina patted me on the knee and said, "Because I'm letting you fill my emotional needs and not my husband." She got up and left without another word leaving me even more confused.
Tina informing me I was satisfying her emotional needs was not news...I knew that a long time ago. But did that really mean we were having an affair? We were just close friends, weren't we? My curiosity was not going to wait for my next conversation with Tina so I fired up my laptop and started searching the web. What I found was enlightening but also damning.
I found an article by Kathleen Kelleher called "Is It Cheating?" The more I read, the more I knew that lines Tina and I had been supposedly trying not to cross had been left behind long ago.
Here's the section that really put the nails in my rationalization and denial coffin:
"Friendships, whether they are hatched over the Internet or in the flesh, begin and develop
quickly when someone connects with a person who appears to be empathetic and who
shares common interests. The first transgression of an emotional infidelity is when two people share information about problems in their primary relationship that their respective partner would feel was a violation. Suddenly, the emotional intimacy in the friendship is deeper than that of the primary relationship, drawing the two people closer to a sexual affair. A primary relationship is even more threatened when marital troubles are discussed with someone who has no vested interest in the marriage."
The article didn't get any more encouraging from there. It brought home the fact that there was no denying that Sunshine and I were having an affair, even though we hadn't done so much as kiss. I remember leaning back in my chair but not taking my eyes off the words on the screen. Now that I had this knowledge what was I going to do with it? Ignore what I knew and continue my relationship with Sunshine? Walk away from Sunshine? Tell her to leave her husband and start a new life with me?
I'd already crossed the line so there was no sense in retreating now. Had to see where this path took me. So I ignored what I knew and continued forward. See where that path took me in Sunshine: Diary of An Affair http://amzn.to/11K07iD
"If you jump I'll break your fall.
Lift you up and fly away with you into the night.
If you need to fall apart, I can mend a broken heart.
If you need to crash, then crash and burn you're not
alone.” Crash and Burn – Savagegarden
It was tough sometimes to hang in with Sunshine. Her emotions were all over the place. Tough for me because I always felt there was a rug with my name on it that was about to be pulled out from under my emotional feet...and Sunshine had pulled it out from under me a few times early on.
I understand why...I mean, she's a married woman, right? She's made a vow, invested years of her life in the marriage, has a couple of kids, and everything in her life is a known quantity. She'd had thoughts of leaving her husband before over the years but I gave her the first real opportunity/reason/excuse to actually leave. But Sunshine's path to leaving was blocked by one thing:
Sunshine was scared of the unknown.
Scared of unknown questions that didn't have answers till she walked away from her marriage. Questions like: Would I want a woman with so much baggage? Was I too good to be true or would I be just another man who let her down? Did she dare trust a man again? Would her kids be traumatized and stygmatized? How would she support herself without her husband's income? What would her family her friends, her church think of her getting divorced? How would they react...would they support or condemn?
Though I had never been married, though I had never faced the issues she was staring right in the eyes, I'd had enough women friends who had gone through divorce and experienced similar feelings/doubts/concerns/fears. Though none of those women had an easy time going through their divorces, they all survived it. The world didn't come to an end. I knew Sunshine would survive and be better off for ditching her husband but it's a lot easier for me to feel that way when it's not my life. Sunshine's fear threatened to keep us apart as she tried to push me away when the fear got too overwhelming.
It became clear that I had to pour my belief, my willpower, my confidence into Sunshine. Two ways I did that - I let her pour out her fear to me and I sang to her. Sang "Crash and Burn" to her. I told her over and over that if she took that leap I would not let her fall. And I was absolutely serious. After all the years of isolation, of feeling ugly and unlovable, I was not going to let Sunshine's fear stop me from being with the woman I had waited my entire life to be with. Whatever she was lacking in confidence or strength or belief or courage, I would give her mine. I would empty myself if I had to so she knew that leaving her husband for me wasn't a risk. I listened, poured, supported and then did it some more, all while showing I was everything her husband wasn't and would never be.
I just never knew how big that leap would be for her or how pouring so much of myself into Sunshine would leave me so drained for what was to come. Leaving her husband was the easy part. Getting away from him was nearly-impossible. In fact, it almost killed her. Or, more accurately, he almost killed her.
See how it all started in Sunshine: Diary of An Affair http://amzn.to/11K07iD
And I'd give up forever to touch you
'Cause I know that you feel me somehow
You're the closest to heaven that I'll ever be
And I don't want to go home right now.
Many songs provided a soundtrack for my relationship with Sunshine and "Iris" from the Goo Goo Dolls is at the front. Until Sunshine I never let a woman get close enough to me to know who I truly was underneath. Relationships were something I wasn't ever good at...hell, forget relationships, getting a date was almost impossible. Difficult to get a date when I could never find the magic words when asking a woman out. My askings were awkward, clumsy, painful and unsuccessful. On those rare occasions I did get a yes, one date was all I got. For as clumsy, painful, and awkward as my invitations were, apparently, the dates were too. That doesn't even count all the times I got stood up. To make my self-esteem nosedive even more, it seemed as though everyone I knew was either married or in a committed relationship. What was it about me that was so horrible that no woman wanted to be with me?
As I entered my 30s, it seemed as though I'd never get married while everyone around me kept asking me when I was going to settle down. My heart felt like it was punctured by a knife every time the question got asked. The only response I could come up with that I was focused on my career and didn't have time for a relationship. Career became a mantra to hide my embarrassment, hurt, and shame as someone who seemed to be invisible to women. And owould always be so.
As Sunshine and I got to know each other, it became clear I was not invisible to her. The attraction between us was undeniable yet unspoken. As our friendship deepened, so did my frustration. Sunshine was just the kind of woman I'd been looking to settle down with but she was already married, just not happily. Over time I got the sense she wanted more from me but held back because of that ring on her finger. The more that time went on I had to listen to her actions because that was where the truth could be found. Though her actions brought her closer to me, it was her words that put distance between us. Her inner conflict was not difficult to see but it was tough to handle because I didn't have any doubts I wanted to be with her.
What was also tough for me to handle was my struggle with finding this woman who wanted to know me on a deeper level than any other woman ever had who I couldn't have because she married the wrong man. After the years of being alone feeling ugly and like there wasn't a woman in existence who could love me, I wasn't going to let something like her wedding ring to keep us apart. The song "Iris" became my new mantra because I knew I would give up anything for Sunshine. Just never knew how much "anything" would cost me. Or her.
Writing the Sunshine Affair series was one of the most difficult undertakings I've had as a writer. Now, writing isn't new to me but writing the type of story that fell in front of my keyboard was. As a writer the three things I look for in any story are realism, a compelling plot, and the main character(s) motivation. When Eric came to me and said, "Here. I think you're the person to tell my story" all three of those elements and more were suddenly in front of me. What Eric had given to me out of the blue were the journals he kept during a secret affair he had over the course of years. This was an affair of which no one knew.
I read Eric's journals. Page after page of his handwritten jotting revealed his thoughts, feelings, and actions...some of which were shocking to me. He put everything is exquisitely defined detail, making me feel as though I were standing next to him as everything unfolded. I felt as though I was finding out what was happening the same moment he was. It took me almost a year to read the secret life he led. During this time I had to decide if I could write the story or if Eric's belief in my writing abilities had been misplaced. It didn't take me long to decide. This was a story I could not pass up telling. I told Eric I would do my best to do his and Tina's story justice.
As much as I loved writing the series, it was not without its challenges. Now, Eric made made task much easier because of his painstaking detail, especially the dialog. 95% of what you read in the Sunshine series actually happened or said. I didn't have to make up the conversations because what Eric recorded in his writings was far better than most writers could make up. The candidness and vivid specifics stood up on their own. My challenge was to not just throw in quotation after quotation of conversation but to really set the scene around those conversations. It's important for the readers to not only be part of the conversation but to put them in the room with Eric and Tina by including facial expressions, body language, and mannerisms.
My strategy in writing the Sunshine Affair series was to stay as true as I could to the diary format to help move the relationship and readers through time as smoothly as possible. The diary format was also used as a tool for people to get in Eric's head and provide a perspective so that we're learning as he's learning, we're surprised as he's surprised, and so on. And that's where I got and stayed awhile - in Eric's head. And it was tougher to get out of than I thought.
We've all had moments when we've wanted to get in someone's head and find out what they're really thinking at a given moment, to know what makes them tick. Prepping and writing the Sunshine Affair series put me squarely in Eric's head. It wasn't that the story sucked me in and wouldn't let go, it was the pondering of why Eric would throw away his entire belief system for Tina, why he did so many things he had told me for years he would never do, how he could keep all of this inside him for so long and not tell anyone. I've never asked Eric directly because part of me doesn't want to know and part of me thinks Eric still doesn't know.
What I can tell you is the Sunshine Affair series is some of the best writing I've ever done and one of the most compelling stories I've ever heard, read, or written about. My hope is that, in the end, I have done Eric and Tina's story justice. But that's not for me to decide.
I invite you to get in Eric's head by checking out book one: Sunshine: Diary of An Affair by clicking on the link. http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00B29ALUC
- E.J. Caulder
Eric Simmons is one of the two essential figures of the Sunshine Affair series. Simmons gave his journals to E.J. Caulder to turn his real-life experiences into a novelized version of the events Simmons lived. Both men to provide their insight on the Sunshine Affair series from their unique perspectives.