Infidelity is a deal-breaker for me. In our earliest days together I shared my thoughts on this subject with my husband. Cheat on me and it’s game over, I said. Do not pass GO, do not collect $200. No second chances for cheaters in my book, buddy. No sirree. None.
What’s more, I outlined the shock-and-awe consequences he’d experience if he did cheat on me. Cheat on me and you’ll be singing soprano. Cheat on me and I’ll divorce you so fast your nose will bleed. Cheat on me and I will take you to the cleaners. Cheat on me and you will rue the day you ever met me.
Maybe you can guess where this is going.
He cheated on me.
To add to my Jerry-Springerish living nightmare, the “other woman” was someone I once considered a dear, trusted friend. Oh, and a colleague, to boot. Triple betrayal. Snap. Crackle. Pop.
Even as I type these words, I fight feelings of shame. Shame to admit that my enviable “perfect” life — in a perfect dream house with my perfect true love — was so profoundly flawed. Shame to realize I wasn’t enough (pretty, smart, appealing, sexy, good, worthy, strong, convincing...) to keep my charming, flirty husband from straying. Shame that when I finally confirmed (praise technology and tiny cameras) my gut-howling suspicions, my first reaction wasn’t to make my husband’s life miserable, as I’d vowed, or hand him his family jewels upon a platter, as I’d boasted.
I didn’t do anything of those things. Even now, I feel shame to admit that my initial reaction was to kill myself to stop the unrelenting pain.
Obviously, I didn’t kill myself. But I was greatly tempted because the man I’d assumed was the love of my life and soul mate was not the person I’d imagined. In some ways, what hurt the most was not just knowing that he didn’t love me the way I’d loved him, but that he obviously didn’t love me the way I’d assumed he’d loved me.
How could I have been so wrong about someone I thought I knew so well?
I felt like a big, fat, disposable fool.
The first week in December, less than 24 hours after I learned of the betrayal, I left my husband. I moved in with my twin sister after I sent her a three-word text: I need you.
I sat out Christmas – my formerly favorite time of the year. I lost the desire to to do all the things I always enjoyed, like cook for people I love or throw parties. I lacked the creative juices to write even the most simple stories.
When my twin’s kids came home for the holidays (unaware of their aunt’s situation) and they needed the guest room, I spent weeks with my newlywed son and daughter-in-law at their place, where they insisted I join them as they made cookies and wrapped packages.
All I really wanted to do was curl up in a ball, shut my eyes and never wake up. My life as I knew it was over.
By the grace of therapy, Jazzercise, Prozac, God, lawyers, wine, friends, family, trustworthy colleagues and chocolate (not necessarily in that order), I made it down some of the roughest roads and survived some of my darkest hours.
The journey from there to here was a bumpy, messy, circuitous path. Along the way there were days I didn’t – and still don’t – recognize myself. For example, I, the adult child of an alcoholic, someone who harshly judged those who lacked the “simple” willpower to hold their liquor, drank more in 10 months than in my entire life. I dialed drunk and raged at my husband. In short order I’d become just as “crazy” as his two previous wives. Funny how that works.
Bailey’s became one of my best friends, mainly before bedtime, but sometimes after dinner, or when I worked on the computer, or read, or when haunted by insomnia.
I, the buttoned-down, organized person known for my color-coded closets and alphabetized spice racks, allowed my room in my sister’s house to look as cluttered as a 13-year-old girl’s. (It still does.)
I, someone who prided myself on my upbeat, Pollyanna outlook and high pain threshold, suddenly saw silver linings as something best suited for caskets. I routinely became emotionally incontinent in the middle of grocery store aisles where I wept openly near closed jars of Skippy to the strains of “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” or “White Christmas” or “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”. Damn it. How could I have lived so long without noticing the prevalence of so many cruel Christmas love songs?
I – a lifelong social butterfly – dreaded leaving the house. I wanted only to withdraw to the comfort of my miserable, solitary cocoon. As someone with a fairly public career, I suddenly felt raw and over-exposed. I avoided going out in public except when absolutely necessary. When I did venture out, I scanned parking lots before I left my car. What if I saw “her”? What if I saw him with someone else? Most of all, how could I face people’s horrible, prying questions?
How are you? What’s new?
I, the easy-going, even-tempered person who once practiced flinging an unsharpened pencil across the room just to see what an angry act might feel like, nearly drowned in a seemingly bottomless well of unbridled rage and grief. I made up a new word: smad (sad plus mad). I cried so hard that my skin literally felt as if it were on fire, or that my brain would explode.
When driving alone, I sometimes screamed until my ears rang. I cried in the shower. I cried alone in my borrowed, queen-sized bed. I cried in the middle of Jazzercise routines and hoped I could pass it off as sweat. I cried on walks. I cried in movie theaters. I cried to full-volumed Andrea Bochelli CDs. I fell asleep crying. I woke up crying.
Basically, I totally lost it.
My twin, who could write a book on loss, told me to be good to myself. She said it was as if I’d been injured in a head-on collision and left for dead. She said I should do everything in my power to heal.
So I, a self-sufficient, low-maintenance care-taker type who wrinkled my nose at women who indulged in naps and spa treatments and pedi’s and mani’s and massages, started getting monthly facials. I bought some make-up at Macy’s Mac counter. And better-late-than-you-know-what I got my first full-body massage (and wept silently through most of it).
I turned to art for self-expression and made a giant collage of a pear that included photos of “the lovers” and their printed-out formerly “off the record” Gmail chats, which I covered with ripped crumpled tissue paper and used Kleenex and colored paper and about five gallons of Elmer’s glue.
Later, between new layers, I noticed that when I turned my pear collage upside down, it looked a lot like a bleeding, broken heart.
Meanwhile, I had some serious business to take care of. For one thing, I needed to regain control of my website and put it back on track – minus the king and queen of cheatin’ hearts. I did that, with help from lawyers, our remaining website team, and the addition of some top-notch journalists who joined anewscafe.com and helped keep things afloat while I was under water.
Despite my previous vow to not give a philanderer another chance, I participated in couples counseling in hopes we had a thread of something left worth salvaging. And when I realized the damage was irreparable, I cut my losses and filed for divorce. Hardest decision of my life.
Today happens to be the 13th anniversary of my marriage to a guy with whom I was sure I’d have grandchildren and enjoy Igo sunsets into our golden years.
OK, so I got that one wrong.
On balance, I know I’m blessed. It’s not lost on me that so many things remain right in my life. My family. My health. My friends. My job. My community.
Plus, I have some good news. I bought a little house in downtown Redding, not far from where I grew up, so it’s as if I’m coming home. The house was built the year I was born. Like me, it’s seen better days, and it needs a little work and some TLC. But don’t we all?
Oh, and there’s something else. My son and daughter-in-law – the ones who let me stay at their home during the holidays – they’re expecting a baby.
It’s a boy.
And so life goes. Yes, sometimes we lose someone we loved. But God-willing, if we choose life and stick around to see what happens in the next chapter, we’ll love again, and create brand new, happy stories to tell.
The first week in December – if this grandson arrives on time – I’ll have another chance for love.