Those first weeks after finding that blue Rough Rider wrapper in the trash were the worst. It’s understandable. I’d spent years standing on the slippery rug on a hardwood floor that my marriage had become, afraid to take a step, lest I trip. Instead of addressing the slickness of the rug beneath my feet, the rug was ripped out from under me like a magician pulling a tablecloth from under a perfectly arranged place setting.
Unfortunately, I’m not magician, my life is far from orderly, and instead of standing tall like the magician’s Waterford crystal cut glasses, my world crashed around me as though someone had flipped the table instead of pulling the cloth.
Everything I believed about us was wrong. The depth of our issues was unfathomable.
During our first real talk about things, we laid all the cards on the table and got brutally honest with each other. At some point in the last half of our marriage, we forgot how to be a couple and just started taking each other for granted. We had both been stressed to the max for the last two years; buying the house in ’14 was proving to be very nearly more than we could handle, my mother moved across the country, leaving me with pretty much no support system. I developed terrible anxiety regarding anything related to finances or the house. In the same time period, he’d lost a job, gotten a new job (albeit with an unpredictable salary), and been shuffled around that job a bunch over the prior six months. We’d let our lives take over and left no time for us, and now we were paying the price.
Like an episode of Hoarders, when it came time to clean up the mess we’d made, neither of us knew where to start, even though we both knew what needed to be done. We both gotten lazy when it came to focusing on us and instead focused on the easier option, ourselves. Always the introvert, I became even more withdrawn than usual – I didn’t even buy him a fucking birthday card the month before.
After it happened, I couldn’t talk to him without bursting into tears, and that was when I actually would talk. For weeks he would sit in the kitchen while I did the dishes and listened to music, afraid that I was going to reach the end of my rope and slit my wrists over the sink. I practiced deep breathing exercises, I tried meditation. I cried when I got stuck in traffic and had no distracting escape from reliving that afternoon. Sometimes I replayed conversations in my head, both real and hypothetical. What if I had just said something different? What if he’d had a different answer? I imagined things as though my life had suddenly become a Choose Your Own Adventure book, and I was rereading it and changing my decisions at the end of each chapter. If you are going to stay with him, turn to page 43. If you would like to leave, turn to page 56.
Over time, I was able to talk to him about what happened. I wrote Intervention-style letters to him describing in detail the ways that his actions had affected me and gave him conditions for my staying with him. I’d come to him with a list of things I needed answers to. Are you happy with me? Are you attracted to me? Are you gay? What’s stopping you from doing this again? He answered every question, and I took his answers at face value. I gave him my solemn promise that I would do whatever it took to help get us back on track, if he would do the same.
We both agreed that what we needed most was honesty and trust between us if we wanted to fix our relationship. If things aren’t fine, then don’t blow smoke up my ass and tell me they are. I wanted him to talk to me about things, and I led by example and stopped bottling up every emotion. Neither of us had been truly honest with the other for years. We both said things that weren’t entirely true, fudging the truth just enough to satisfy. It was simpler that way, just saying what the other expected. There could be no arguments or meltdowns if things were kept in the dark.
I’ll admit it. Sometimes, I wasn’t completely honest when he’d ask if anything was bothering me; he knew the truth, he always knew, and he would prepare himself for an argument, or the tears, and the inevitable black cloud of depression that would follow. He knew that eventually I would tell him what had been bothering me, and he’d be there to listen to me talk about my nonstop rumination of whatever spiraling bullshit had taken over my thoughts that week.
Unfortunately, he still kept everything to himself. If he was stressed, he never said anything. He took up smoking again, and this was the source of countless arguments between us. He had quit early in our marriage because we couldn’t afford it, and didn’t pick it back up after watching my grandmother wither away as the cancer ate her. I’d smell cigarettes on him occasionally, and he’d deny it every time I questioned it. Deny, deny, deny, until I had proof, and the truth would trickle out. Once, I smelled cologne on him, something he never, ever used unless we were getting fancy. When asked, he said he just felt like wearing it that day. Another day, I joked about him smelling like sex, and he told me it was his beard oil. “It’s musky,” he said.
He told his lies with the same practiced ease and skill he used when we’d make love, because he knew that what I wanted more than anything was to believe he couldn’t hurt me, and wouldn’t ever hurt me. It was easier to just believe that he was telling the truth than to face the fact that he was lying again, or worse, that he had never stopped. With each lie, my heart hurt a little more. That pain was, and still is, always there, and while some days it was just a dull throb and easily pushed down, there were plenty of days where that pain was so mentally debilitating that it consumed me.
She’s my heart, my life, my love. I will make this up to her, and one day, the good days will out weigh the bad days.him, Sept. 1, 2016
Looking back, I realize now that every answer he gave me was something carefully crafted to keep me from digging too deep. Those weren’t his cigarettes in the pocket of his work shirt, one of his coworkers had left them in the pit, and he was keeping them from getting stepped on down there. When I asked him if I could look though his backpack during an argument, he said he had a couple of cigarettes in it, he’d had a stressful week, he was sorry and it wouldn’t happen again. It was beard oil. And I believed it, every word, because the alternative would kill me. He knew it, and I knew it, and as long as neither of us looked too closely, the illusion of happiness was maintained.
After I had discovered his infidelity, one of our agreements was that I had full access to everything he owned, from his electronics to his clothing. I only ever used that privilege once, a month after the discovery, when I demanded that he let me look through his phone. I knew that occasionally checking on things would lead to obsessively checking on things. A few times over the years between discovery and that Wednesday morning, I asked him for the truth. “I feel like you’re being shady. Are you being shady again? If I took your phone, would I find anything?”
His answer was always the same. He loved me, he didn’t want to lose me, and he wasn’t being shady. He had nothing to hide. I could take the phone if I wanted. I didn’t want to be that wife who analyzed every nook and cranny of her husband’s life. Maybe, if I had been that wife, things wouldn’t be they way they are right now.