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The Other Side of Infidelity – A Betrayed Wife’s Story
I always wanted to get married. I wanted a happy home, a happy partner. After twenty years of marriage I assumed it was true, we were happy. Our way, in a way that suits our unique characteristics. We agree on all decisions; Not with difficulty but with ease. “How should our wedding be?” That was not the question I asked. This was our wedding; It was a mutual process and was the result of twenty years together. What I quickly learned is true in a relationship without secrets.
Are secrets suddenly revealed? When the truth comes out, it can feel sudden. In reality, there are signs but they remain unclear. “How did you not know your husband was having an affair?” It played over and over in my mind in the days following the revelation. Because I didn’t want to give a clear face? No, because love affairs are not always revealed to husband and wife. Not late at night. No lipstick on the collar. There is no unaccounted time. No strange phone calls. Where was I supposed to look? My husband remained honest about his routine and his family.
One day the routine was broken. I walked into his office and he was stuck on the phone, whispering with a wide smile on his face. He had forgotten that I was meeting that morning. While on the phone he looked at me and said “I have to go”. The conversation was very friendly; My first thought was why can’t you say I’m here with this person? As he put the receiver down I asked, “Who were you talking to?” He stumbled and replied, “No one.” I responded “Sounds like you’re having a good time.” Then he replied, “It was Alice.” My heart dropped. I immediately started thinking, Ellis? Elise moved away two years ago. She was your secretary. Why would you be talking to her? I got embarrassed and went from his office to an empty office on the side. He followed me and closed the door. I immediately asked “Did you have a fair with Alice?” “No” he shook his head and said “no” again. I didn’t believe him, but I had no idea he would lie to me. He had never lied to me before, why now? what can i do Accusing your partner of having an affair felt fundamentally wrong, and yet words hung in the air between us. I could only leave to avoid discomfort.
My husband called continuously for an hour. When I finally answered the phone, he said he called Ellis back after I left. He told her that it was wrong for me to be their friend. He assured me that there was nothing between them and that he would end any future contact. At that time I believed him. I have not repeated this incident and I often wonder why. I was on the verge of discovery and I hesitated. All I can say is that this hesitation comes from wanting to marry someone I know and trust.
Two weeks passed and the incident never crossed my mind again. Then, I came home late one night and he had his work e-mail open and there was a message from Alice in the inbox. I looked closer, wait, there were several messages from Alice over several months. I never opened his e-mail before, but I did this time. To find the truth? No, to find assurance that it was just what he said it was – a friendship. What I found were not warm love letters, but messages that were impossible to ignore. One note that ended with “love” and another that talked about how much fun it would be to see each other at the conference.
A slow decomposition process began. I could feel the heat rising from my stomach as the ground seemed to move. I took several deep swallows and knew this wasn’t just friendship. How can I ask him? what do i say I stayed awake for three hours before finally waking him up. Those three hours were endless. As I was trying to think of what to do, I heard the clock ticking. I had to know. I wanted to know. I lay next to him, chanting Alice’s name over and over as he fell asleep. “Please, please, confess to me a good night’s sleep.” I begged in my heart. No such luck. Clearly, there was only one way to get the truth, and that was from him. The transition from faithful wife to unbearable abuser happened quickly. At three in the morning I started crying. He got up and asked what was wrong and I blurted out, “I know you’re having an affair with Elise. Just tell me. Tell me now. It’s my life and I have a right to know.” Scared from waking up, he quickly replied, “I did. I did.”
I wanted to kill him and I did. I stopped hitting. I didn’t stop because I thought it was wrong. I stopped because I didn’t know what kind of violence I was capable of. At what point can you go from being a wife who feels unkind to asking if your husband is having an affair with a sleazy murderer? I didn’t know, but this act of confession certainly begged the question. The more rational part of me gained a footing. I needed answers. A storm erupted and questions rained down. If you were our neighbor and you were unlucky enough to wake up, you would have heard angry voices and screams. We were that couple you hear late at night when the noise is so loud you don’t know which house it’s coming from. This couple is so desperate that they don’t care if we hear them bickering. If you were our neighbor, you would think that only fools and rustics fight like this. We were that couple.
Suddenly it all stopped. “How long was the affair?” To which he responded, “Four years.” The room began to swim and I began to sway. I was falling, but I was still standing. Not like that moment in Alice in Wonderland where she’s ready to chase the White Rabbit and you’re not sure if she’s dreaming or still awake as she falls down the rabbit hole. Alice screams in terror as she falls, but she begins to realize that the fall is so slow and ridiculous that she cannot bear the fear. Soon the event starts to feel like it’s just falling and wondering when it’s going to land. Hours seem to pass and she spends her time staring at the wall as she walks down. There are jam jars on the shelves, plates, tea cups and books. She sees them all, but she keeps falling so she can’t figure out why they’re there.
When you find out that your partner is unfaithful, you never get off. You travel down the pit believing that it is the days when you have reached the bottom of the well. Tell yourself you feel awful, or surely it can’t get any worse? Surely, this should be at the bottom? You need a bottom. You just want to land somewhere at the bottom of the hole. Like Alice, if you land you can discover where you are rather than wondering where you are going. Can’t plan a return trip once you’ve landed?
With infidelity, there is no landing to begin your journey back to what was. Gone is what you knew. Imagine suddenly being homeless without a friend or a destination to help you. You find a place to sleep, a place to eat, a place to bathe, but it’s never enough to restore you. You are never clean enough, you are never rested enough, and food does not satisfy your hunger. You want more, but after a few nights of being homeless, you can’t remember what it’s like to be indoors. Memories of safety cannot sustain you because if they are all taken from you, how can you feel safe knowing that?
Death was in my dream. I opened the door and no one was there. The glass broke but there was no one to hear it. I searched for my children, but I could not find them. There was no one there in my dream. I was alone, searching, and on the verge of some violent death. If I found anyone, it was usually Elise, another woman. I woke up from dreams as if I hadn’t slept and my body was throbbing with pain. I faced the day but I couldn’t do anything. I will do what I have to do, but no more. I fed the kids, I did the housework, I went to work, but each activity took me away from thoughts I didn’t want to let go of. My job was dealing with this fraud, although dealing with this fraud is nothing at all. It took over my whole being and it took everything out of my mind.
I wanted to kill her. I knew her. She knew my children. She attended parties at my house. I sympathized with her stories. When my husband complained about her work performance, I defended her. She moved 2000 miles away, but I stayed close to her old home. Crying and wishing I could just slam the door in her face. While I’m driving, can she just cross the road and I can hit her with my car? “Officer, I never saw her cross the street. She was jaywalking.” Surely, that’s why the insanity defense was created?
Scraps of paper, coins, match books, drawers full of old numbers and more drawers began to take on new meaning. It was a storehouse of potential clues from the past that I never knew existed. My kids will ask me what I’m doing and tell them I’m cleaning. Yes, cleanliness is what it is. I was trying to clean up the past, make sense of it, and make sense of everything I had missed. I didn’t really live those years. Oh, I thought I had, but you can’t when it’s such a big lie. I was screaming under the walls of memories to fill that void with this information. Enlightenment came like scraps in a discarded junk drawer. In the middle of an innocuous conversation, I would ask my husband questions that just wouldn’t be comforting. “Did you drive on the freeway with her? Did you ever eat together? Did she make you breakfast?” Pointless, pointless question but the balance of my emotional state rested on the answer. If only I could pull the pieces together, I could pull myself together.
Answers came, but not enough. The holes and gaps of those years remained. Between arguments, we sat and ate, we watched TV, we slept together. We were passionate. We declared our love and our commitment. I was dying. Days turned into months and eventually we reached the stage that was earlier anger and frustration. That argument was over. For my husband it was quiet and he welcomed these days, hard earned after months of chaos. Silence may seem peaceful, but it is also despair. Anger was life and it was a way of trying to take over my life and reshape it. Twist it, bend it, get it back to what I know and understand.
I didn’t know where things stood for my husband and me. I thought I knew most days. It was the repentant spouse who saved this marriage. I was the one who had reached the brink of sanity, but was making my way back. I could forgive, but not forget. It felt pointless. How does one forget? Will anyone ever forget that they had cancer? Will they forget the car wreck? My husband and I had lost touch over the years; Something I now know, but cannot understand without his confession. There was light at the end of the rabbit hole at the end of the tunnel. I wasn’t going to get off, but maybe get out of it myself; Finding the contents of the tunnel along the way.
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