L.A. Affairs

L.A. Affairs (Steve Sedam, For the Los Angeles Times / November 14, 2013)

I was done.

At 57, I had three cratered marriages behind me, all with intelligent women and mutually agreed upon endings that separated them from me and me from my money and a couple of nice homes.

It was like I was in the major leagues and just couldn't seem to hit the curve. And they kept throwing it.

So I got out of the game. No more long-term relationships, no shared keys, no traveling toothbrushes, none of that. And the strategy worked for a while, not spectacularly, but it worked.

In the Bungalow Heaven section of Pasadena, I shared a big Victorian, two stories and surrounded by leafy old oaks, with housemates. I was riding out the last divorce proceeding, the legal profession's version of the root canal. I was surrounded by renters from JPL and Caltech, who spoke a kind of Geek English that communicated no meaningful, let alone interesting, information. As far as I was concerned, this was perfect. Pleasant, slightly human connections, and that's all.

Then one day, across the hall, just as I emerged from my serene isolation, I saw a Chinese actress walking toward me, placid and stunning. She was a new renter, contemplating a move to the U.S.

Smiling briefly, she nodded and went down the stairs. I realized after a time that I hadn't moved or breathed for those moments. As moments go, they were diamonds of time — perfect. Everything stopped. It was one of those times when you know that you know.

A younger man with no history would have made a move, done something, said something in the presence of such beauty. In my mind, however, there was a lot of "approach-avoidance" stuff going on.

I knew this was trouble, trouble of that worst kind — gorgeous trouble. Of that, there was no doubt.

It became obvious after a while that Linda faced some challenges — at the DMV, with ICE, at PCC (Pasadena Community College), all bureaucracies that required fluent English, an indomitable nature and the negotiating skills of Jack Welch. She had two out of three and was taking classes in English as a second language. I offered to help.

I supplied the occasional lift to the Gold Line, travel directions, rides home from PCC and eventually help with homework. When the platonic relationship that I carefully charted began to become more meaningful, I called a meeting with her on the sweeping veranda of that great old house.

I told her who I was: a Vietnam vet with post-traumatic stress disorder and an alcoholic 27 years in recovery, broke after three divorces, who could squeak by financially unless the Feds stopped printing checks. I told her that as far as long-term relationships went, I was a bad bet.

Further, I told Linda that there were probably more than a thousand men in the same ZIP Code who were younger, who were better fixed financially, who had far brighter futures and who would be absolutely delighted just to be in her company. She was that beautiful.

Although I was not stepping away or abandoning her, I said, her best opportunities lay in the direction of youth and promise.

It was my first turn at engaging a female with integrity. I did this out of respect for her and who she had revealed herself to be. In the face of that incredible beauty, brains, drive and serenity, I told her who I was and what I thought of her. I told her all about me, my previous relationships, what I had done and what I had learned from each experience.

In recovery I learned that the best way, the easy way, is to tell the truth. Timing is important, yes. And I knew that this was the time. It was clean. She had the facts, and she could make a decision about her future here. My heart was in my throat.

After waiting a beat or two to be sure that I had finished, Linda asked, "Would you like to go to Starbucks and have a cup of coffee?"

"Did you hear anything I just said?" I asked.

"Yes, everything. Shall we?"

We dated for four years, spending our time here and in China. I'm a hard man, but eventually I learned to be soft. She asked if I would let her teach me yoga, something she had studied and taught for 12 years. I said yes.

One day, shortly after we married, we were leaving church and Linda said words that every husband wants to hear. She said, "I believe that God has put you in my life." She said this in the middle of the crosswalk, and I nearly didn't make it to the curb because I felt as though I were floating on air.

"Do you really mean that?"

"Yes," she said. "I believe that you are the cross that I have to bear. You need help."

We will celebrate four years in March.

L.A. Affairs chronicles romance and relationships. Past columns and submission guidelines are at latimes.com/laaffairs. If you have comments to share or a story to tell, write us at home@latimes.com.