From Orange Coast magazine
December 2008


My O.C.

Looking In: A welcome but unexpected peek into an unraveling life

When my husband and I moved from Irvine to a cottage a few blocks from Corona del Mar’s main beach, the bad already had begun to outweigh the good. During our 10 years together, we’d had too many fights, too little fun, and it was only a matter of time before something or someone pried us apart.

I just didn’t expect it to be a specter in the night.

It arrived in late November. We were still settling into our new place and putting up Christmas decorations when a peeper happened by. Our streets have no streetlights, to retain the quaint atmosphere of our village. This
makes it a perfect place to roam at night, unnoticed. So while our bedroom and office windows had miniblinds, only flimsy white eyelet curtains covered the rental’s living room and kitchen windows, offering clear nighttime views of our home’s lighted interior. I didn’t worry, because Corona del Mar is known for its low crime rate and an at-the-ready police force.

My husband and Leelo, our dog, had fallen asleep on the carpet by the cottage’s wall heater. We’d had an early holiday party, and I was cleaning up when I heard the faint squeak of shoes on the walkway beside the house. I hurried to the spare bedroom and peered through the blinds. The courtyard received some light from the kitchen window. A man rounded the corner. He turned to where I stood and our eyes met through the blinds. I gasped. His bloodshot blue eyes went wide.

I let go of the blinds, they flipped shut, and the stranger backed away into the dark.

I tried to rouse my husband. “There’s a man outside!”

He briefly lifted his head off the carpet and squinted. Leelo stood, sniffed, circled, and lay back down.

“You’re both useless!” I said.

I made sure everything was locked and looked back outside. The peeper was peering through the kitchen window now, hands clasped behind his back as if window-shopping. I dialed 911, then toed my husband’s shoulder: “You might want to get up before the cops get here.”

That got his attention.

The peeper was gone by the time two police cruisers swooped to a stop by the curb. One policeman took a report. Two days later, a detective called. Could he bring over a photo book of suspects?

An hour later I peeked out the front window as the detective approached our home. Tall, husky, and official in his pinstriped suit, he looked almost a decade older than I and so not my type. Unlike my husband, who was fit and arty, the detective was a big man and looked so … conservative. He rang the doorbell. Cops made me nervous, but his blue-green eyes sparkled, his smile beckoned, and I offered him a seat. He asked me questions, we paged through the binder, and I felt an unexpected, but not unwelcome, charge. If there were such a thing as love at first sight, oddly, this was it. Before he left, he made me promise to get a motion-detector light and to give him a call if I ever wanted to chat about police procedures for the mystery novel I was writing. I said I would.

At the police station two days later, we sat in a windowless interrogation room no bigger than a confessional. He brought me a Styrofoam cup of water and answered questions about perpetrators and crimes. The next week we met at Coco’s in Corona del Mar, close to my house. A burnished gold band looked stuck on his ring finger, slipped there when he was a newly married, thinner man. I was smitten.

We began meeting twice a week at restaurants, just to talk. He teased me about being a vegetarian, saying his favorite vegetable was ketchup. He was attentive, and chivalrous. Once when I visited him at the station, he bought me a Diet Coke from the vending machine and wiped the top clean with his fresh white hanky. This endeared him to me all the more; his courtliness was a refreshing change from my husband.

The detective went to Big Bear with his family between Christmas and New Year’s Day. All that week, as I drove up MacArthur, snowcapped Big Bear loomed in the distance. I counted the days until he returned.

The new year brought with it a long-planned overseas trip for my husband. The afternoon he left, I invited the detective over. We pulled open the office futon. Our clothes fell to the floor. He laid his holstered gun on top of the heap. I hate guns, but that day I liked feeling protected. His hands gently smoothed my hair, outlined my face and body. I was in deep.

With my husband away, the detective visited most mornings. He’d check in early at the department then rap on my door, carrying a bag of pastries and coffee from the French bakery down on Bayside. I always expected donuts; were pastries what cops ate when they had affairs?

My husband suspected something after he returned a week later. While I slept, he read my journal. Hurt and angry, he threatened to leave unless I stopped seeing my lover. I couldn’t stop, so the marriage ended.

I alternated between seeing the detective and dating other men. But a half-life with a married man was not only painful, it was immoral. I wanted to be done with men altogether, but secretly prayed someone would come along who would change everything. I eventually met a professional musician, a reader of philosophy and mythology. He was so unlike the other Orange County men I was meeting. He had long hair and, unlike the detective, ate vegetables. But if I wanted him, he said I’d have to end all contact with the detective.

So one glaringly sunny spring day, the detective and I met one last time at Coco’s. He paid for our coffees and we said our goodbyes by his car in the parking lot.

He tried to hug me, but I walked away, my eyes tearing. I turned around just once. I still found him compelling, but it wasn’t enough. It would never be enough.

The blue-eyed prowler will never know that the few minutes he spent peering into our windows set into motion a tsunami that would change my life, as well as the way I view our neighborhood. Cute and cozy comes with a price. In congested walking towns such as ours, prowlers don’t stand out as they do in subdued suburban neighborhoods. And while it is safe here, it’s not private. Sometimes I feel I’m being watched.

I also wonder if the peeper’s only purpose was to make me take a closer look at myself and the changes I needed to make. Without the peeper, I might not have remarried and had a son. The man looking into my house may have been a voyeur, but he offered me a glimpse into my life—the look I had been unwilling to take.

Barbara DeMarco-Barrett is an Orange Coast contributing writer and the author of Pen on Fire: A Busy Woman’s Guide to Igniting the Writer Within (Harcourt Books).






Copyright © 2008 by Barbara DeMarco-Barrett

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

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