Welcome to It’s Complicated, stories on the sometimes frustrating, sometimes confusing, always engrossing subject of modern relationships. (Want to share yours? Email pitches to email@example.com.)
I’ve never understood the appeal of true crime as entertainment. I have no problem with fictional mysteries — I love a good Hitchcock film or Agatha Christie whodunits — but I’ve always been creeped out by television shows and films depicting real-life murder cases. So when I was offered a post-production job on a docudrama about people who were killed by their so-called “best friends,” I promptly declined.
As an actress, I’d often filled the time between gigs with these freelance TV jobs, which were a good way to pay the bills. I figured I could just find another show to jump on, but after I turned down the murder show, weeks passed without any more offers. My bank account wasn’t going to replenish itself, so when the production company reached out a second time to see if I was interested in the murder show, I reluctantly accepted.
My first day, the producers did everything they could to assuage my fears about working there, assuring me that the show wouldn’t be exploitative, that the victims and their families would be respected. Which was comforting, until I realized I would spend a good chunk of my time reading detailed police files and, at times, viewing graphic crime-scene photos. My days were soon filled with tales of houses being set on fire, ill-fated love triangles, and college dorm-room attacks. I would call my mom every night on my way to the subway after work, begging her to share any iota of positive news. She could have told me that she bought a new toaster, and I would have been thrilled — anything to get my mind off of what I’d seen that day.
About a week into my new job, I met a guy I’ll call D, who had dark hair and dimples that I secretly enjoyed admiring from afar. I soon learned via a co-worker of mine (who worked on a show about a ghost-hunting psychic) that he was an associate producer on my show.
I also learned that he had a girlfriend, which was a little disappointing, but didn’t bother me much — until our company holiday party. The office had rented out the dining room at L&B Spumoni Gardens in Brooklyn, and he and I happened to sit across from each other. As the grand finale of a gut-busting meal, each table was presented with a comically large sundae studded with cake pieces and ice-cream cones.
“I love the green stuff!” D shouted, spooning small mountains of spumoni into his mouth. It was the first time I’d gotten to witness his weird sense of humor and infectious enthusiasm, and I was cracking up. Then the owner of the company announced that whichever table finished the giant sundae first would get a cash prize, and our group started shoveling it in. D’s capacity for ice cream was impressive, and we won. I got five dollars. I was smitten.
By the time the new year came around, I found out my friend had been wrong about D having a girlfriend. I also learned that he was an avid fan of comedy, and that we shared an appreciation for good restaurants. We started engaging in playful, nonsensical banter during the day — a way, for both of us, to take the edge off while dealing with pretty morbid stuff on a daily basis. One time, D left me a paper trail made of Post-it notes; I followed it all the way to the end, only to find it led to a paper plate full of bagel crumbs from his breakfast on his desk. I laughed at the absurdity of it before heading back to my cubicle to review autopsy reports.
I began putting more effort into what I wore to work. Things started accelerating when we realized we were in the minority of people in our office who had not seen the show Homeland, which the rest of our co-workers discussed in depth each week. I half-jokingly told him we should get together to watch it and see what all the fuss was about, and to my surprise, he told me to let him know when I was free. The rainy Saturday afternoon he came over (bearing ingredients for mimosas), we didn’t get around to Homeland until hours after our clothes had come off.
We also spent hours just talking that day. He told me how difficult it was for him to meet the parents and siblings left behind by incomprehensible crimes; at the same time, he said he hoped the show could be a source of comfort for them. I confided in him that I almost didn’t accept the job. He told me he was glad I did. In that moment, I was, too.
By the time we noticed that it was dark outside, all we had in our systems was spiked orange juice. “Burgers?” I asked. We had them delivered, and ate in bed as we started watching the first episode.
“Homelanding,” as we called it, became a regular occurrence for us. D would come over and we would have sex, vent about work, change the subject to movies or restaurants or literally anything else, have sex again, order delivery on Seamless, and eat dinner half-naked as we finally got around to watching the show. If it was a weeknight, we would stagger our entrances into the office the following morning, often with one of us wearing clothes from the day before.
It felt fun and scandalous to have a secret work fling. A blinking Gchat notification — typically signifying the start of an NSFW conversation — felt like a well-deserved reward after hours spent on the soul-sucking task of proofreading macabre scripts. D and I would take long walks to Dean & Deluca on our lunch breaks, knowing it was too far away to risk being seen together by our co-workers. Sometimes, we snuck away to a random floor to make out in the stairwell, and even brought a bamboo mat purchased from a shop in Chinatown up to the roof to fool around on. I still don’t know what happened to that mat, and part of me wonders if it’s still there today, tucked behind the planter where we stashed it.
Eventually, D’s role on the show came to an end, and so did our time together. Since I worked in post-production, I stayed on for months after him, watching rough cuts of one horrific crime after another. I never developed the ability to fully separate my emotions from my work, but I’d developed another way of coping — my exciting hush-hush relationship with D had been a much-needed reminder, amid the gore and the anguish that I took in daily, that there was still plenty of good in my life. As I watched footage of interviews with the victims’ families, I thought about how D had been there, speaking to them in person in his genuinely empathetic way. Each morning, the trays of free bagels in the office kitchen brought back memories of his Hansel and Gretel–esque treasure hunt.
And whenever I passed the edit rooms, I smiled at the thought of a close call we’d had once, when, toward the end of the workday, D left me a note saying he wanted to show me something in one of them. We ended up having sex in the empty, dark room until we heard the knock of a custodian trying to get in and rushed to put our clothes back on. Instead of calling my mom for my usual pick-me-up that day, I laughed to myself on the way to the train, replaying the moment in my head. It was better than therapy.