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L.A. Affairs: I met my dream man. The only problem? He wasn't my husband

A woman is wrapped around a vignette of her and a man on bikes at the beach.
(Maki Yamaguchi / For The Times)

I had been married for six weeks the night I met Anthony. Tall, olive-skinned with electric green eyes, he was so handsome my cheeks were flushed when I walked through the front door of his shared Venice Beach home.

I was in L.A. from Seattle visiting my sister for the weekend. Crossing paths with her boyfriend’s best friend and housemate wasn’t on the agenda. Due to flight delays, Anthony had just returned from a trip to the East Coast. His suitcase was still at the foot of the stairs.

“Well, where are we all going for dinner?” he asked.

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The four of us drove in his powder-blue vintage Land Cruiser to Cafe Brasil on Venice Boulevard. Outside on the tiny patio, Anthony scooted in next to me with the bottles of Two-Buck Chuck we’d brought with us.

I pushed away nagging thoughts of my husband. College sweethearts, we had wed just shy of my 23rd birthday.

Eating fried plantains as sweet and sticky as the August air, Anthony and I bonded over a shared passion for music, books and foreign movies.

“Have you seen ‘In the Mood for Love'?” he asked. I shook my head, smiling, my mind swirling from the cheap red wine. “You’re going to love it,” he said. His hand grazed my thigh with a familiar intimacy that belied strangers.

The next day I flew back to my husband, brushing off the night as harmless flirting. Yet I couldn’t stop thinking about the gorgeous 29-year-old video editor. Every time I remembered Anthony’s fingers against my leg, an electric surge swept my body.

A week later, he called me.

We talked for hours and kept talking in the weeks to come, an intense emotional connection exploding between us. Neither of us had felt this way before. Did we dare to explore it?

Seven months prior, my wedding planning was underway. I had told my fiancé that I wanted to extend our engagement. Everything was moving too fast for me. He balked at the idea. Losing him scared me just as much as marrying him did. When I confided my hesitations to my Mexican mother, she assured me that my cold feet would thaw. The edge in her lilting voice had a warning: Don’t screw this up.

I didn’t care about screwing up. I had to see Anthony again. Inventing an excuse, I returned to L.A. for Labor Day weekend.

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Our illicit affair unfurled over those last days of summer.

During the afternoon, we sprawled out on a grassy knoll by the beach. Blankets and books spread around us as we listened to a playlist he’d made on a shared iPod. “Declaration,” the towering metal sculpture flanked by palm trees, rose high into the hot air above our entwined bodies.

In the evening, we strolled the Venice canals, holding hands like any other young couple, only with my wedding ring jangling against the change in my coin purse. Anthony and I made out over margaritas at La Cabaña, stumbling the few blocks from the restaurant to his house — and his bed.

After the weekend ended, I physically returned to my husband. But every other part of me remained on the glittering shores of California with Anthony.

“We rushed into marriage,” I told my husband a month later. “I need time to think.” He drove me to the airport, believing I was going to stay with my sister. He was unaware that another man was waiting for me at arrivals.

For a short while, Anthony and I existed in the fantasy of our little cocoon. We frequented Vidiots, where we rented Wong Kar-wai’s stunning and tragic story of unrequited love. Anthony was right: I was captivated by the film. We rode bikes on the beach path, snaking along the coastline with the autumn air crisp against our faces. We watched the sun set from Pacific Coast Highway, toes touching as our feet dangled from the back of his SUV.

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Yet, even in these moments of happiness, as I pretended that I was free, I felt more lost than ever.

By winter, I was spiraling. I confessed my infidelity to my husband. His anguish shattered the cold barrier I had put up, leaving me bereft over my betrayal. “Your heart hurts?” he cried. “Well, mine is broken.”

My affair with Anthony imploded.

I returned to my husband. But there was nothing to salvage. I still wasn’t over Anthony. My husband and I signed divorce papers nine months after we had said, “I do.”

That summer Anthony called to say he’d been diagnosed with colon cancer.

The final time I spoke with him was two months later in October. It was a couple of weeks before the surgery to remove his tumor. Still reeling from the consequences of our relationship, I lashed out when he told me he was seeing someone and it was getting serious.

In the ignorance of my youth, it had never occurred to me that he might not survive. In July, at 31, he succumbed to cancer.

On the one-year anniversary of his death, I stood in the hallway of the Venice Beach bungalow Anthony had moved into with his new wife. He married the woman he had told me about on the phone. He must have told her about me too. A kind and gracious woman, she had invited me to his life celebration. Her invitation was a gift. She couldn’t have known that I had spent the last year drowning in grief, guilt and regret.

Before me hung a framed photo of Anthony and his wife on their wedding day. A salmon-colored button-down shirt hung from his skeletal frame. There was hollowed space under his shimmering eyes. He looked as beautiful as ever.

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At midnight, his friends and loved ones assembled on bicycles, riding in his honor through the dark streets of Venice. Our bike gang was so large that people stumbling out of bars on Abbot Kinney Boulevard stopped to stare.

When we arrived at Anthony’s favorite spot on the beach, we formed a circle, hands linked, our voices howling in the salty sky. There, in the moonlit shadow of that mighty steel sculpture, I declared my love and loss and said goodbye.

The author is a freelance writer living in Highland Park. She’s on Instagram: @kimberlybridson

L.A. Affairs chronicles the search for romantic love in all its glorious expressions in the L.A. area, and we want to hear your true story. We pay $400 for a published essay. Email LAAffairs@latimes.com. You can find submission guidelines here. You can find past columns here.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.