In the past few months, I’ve started getting questions about the more emotional posts on my blog. Namely… where have they gone?
Well, my friends, I hate to disappoint you, but the truth is that I’m just not as emotional as I once was. I have a completely different life than I did a year ago – my depression is gone, and so is that phase where I went through men like water. I’m sure the butterflies will come back one day, but for now, the only emotional project I’m working on is my book.
Writing a book has been a dream of mine since I was young, and once I realized what a powerful effect my story has on a lot of people going through difficult breakups, I knew that I had to write this. If I have my way, you’ll be laughing, crying, and potentially hitting your head on the table the whole way through.
This snippet I’m about to share with you is a very emotional part. It’s a story I’ve never completely told on my blog before, and a very powerful memory for me. It takes place a month and a half after I discovered my husband was cheating on me, at a secluded retreat for couples trying to work through extramarital affairs. The point was to stay together, even though I was only 24, and I was clinging to this retreat for dear life to save us. But somehow, I had a bad feeling that we were already gone.
My head felt heavy as we pulled into the drive, weighted down by the unwelcome knowledge I spent the past weeks learning. A bout of nausea bubbled up again, and it occurred to me I had not eaten since lunchtime yesterday. Now, it was 8 in the morning.
I surveyed the house as my husband parked the car. The porch wrapped around the welcoming yellow exterior. There was a swing, and benches for resting. Outside was a couple standing close together as a dog retrieved a stick they picked up in the woods. It didn’t look like the kind of place you came to talk about extramarital affairs. If I didn’t know any better, I’d think we had just come home – somehow stepped into the life we always imagined for ourselves thirty years down the road. A life that I wasn’t sure was waiting for us anymore.
A woman waved from the front door, beckoning us inside. With one final glance at each other, we turned off our cell phones and stood hesitantly, locking them in the car. I folded my arms as we approached the door, hoping they would provide me some warmth. It was still seventy degrees in Texas, but my body shook as we made our way up the steps.
We entered the house, greeted by the scent of biscuits and bacon. It was comforting and nauseating all at the same time. We signed in at the welcome table and peeked around the room at the other couples. I knew that each was here for a reason. A terrible, tragic reason. But watching them drink their plastic cups of orange juice, you’d never guess it.
I nibbled a biscuit as we took our seat on the couch. Emotions swirled through me like a hurricane, a torrential downpour of unhappiness. Loneliness. Isolation. The overwhelming feeling that no one in this room understood me. No one in the world could. It was all I could do not to explode into tears before the session had even begun.
He loves me, I thought. Yes, he did some terrible things. Yes, we ended up here. But this wasn’t supposed to happen. It was a mistake. We aren’t supposed to be here. We’re supposed to be happy. And we will be happy. We have to be. Because this is not how it is supposed to end. This is just a bump in the road.
I wanted to remove myself from the room, tell them it had all been a misunderstanding – but something inside of me lingered. A terrible knot in the pit of my stomach that knew. Knew this was real. This was happening. And that I would have to face it alone to get to the other side – wherever the other side was.
I looked into the eyes of each of the women there. They were much older than I was, with an air of maturity and grace I couldn’t quite replicate. I could be your daughter, I thought as I glanced around. They looked at me the same, and I could tell they wanted nothing more than to hold me. You’re too young for this, darling, I heard them say silently. How did you get here? What are you doing?
Tears began to slip down my cheeks as I stared at the biscuit in my lap.
“You should really eat more,” my husband said to me, placing his arm around my upper body, rubbing my shoulder affectionately. “I’m worried about you, sweetheart.”
“I can’t,” I whispered through the tears, fixating on the nearly untouched biscuit.
The pain in his eyes was palpable. With every tear I cried, its depth became greater. He knew that he had done this to me. That he was fully responsible for creating what sat next to him. A girl who had once been so vibrant, so full of life – now morphed into this shell of a human being, weeping into a biscuit, lacking the desire to eat. To move. To exist.
I wiped my face as a man stood up and greeted the room. He was thin and gray-haired – friendly in the kind of way you’d expect from Mr. Rogers. In the event that Mr. Rogers ever hosted specials on dealing with infidelity in your marriage.
He wished us good morning. Hoped we were able to rest. Encouraged us to take our medication if we hadn’t done so already. I watched as people rummaged in their purses for antidepressants, and realized for the first time this was something I should have. Something they expected me to have.
He laid out the morning. We would break into two groups to get acquainted. But first, we would go around the room and introduce ourselves. It felt just like the first day of kindergarten. Tell us your name. How long you’ve been married. Why you’re here.
The room was pregnant with emotion as each couple began. A room full of strangers having shared nothing more than a glass of OJ with one another, confiding the most personal piece of their existence. In a way, it was almost easier than confiding in loved ones.
At that point in time, hardly anyone in my life knew what we were going through. My sister, my mother, my father. That was all. Each had a very different reaction, none of them truly understanding how I felt in the situation. Wrecked and helpless, yet desperately in love. Wanting my husband almost more than before. Holding onto every last piece of our marriage, yet pushing it away at the same time. Wanting to shred our memories to pieces with my bare hands, then weep as I taped them all back together again. No one can understand me, I thought, because I am crazy.
The time came for us to share with the room. Like show and tell, but in the most fucked up way imaginable. I buried my head in my arms as the room stared, too embarrassed to look them in the eye. To admit that this was my life. Because as irrational as it sounds, I just couldn’t shake the feeling that this was my fault, and they all knew it.
We followed suit from the couples before us, allowing the cheater to introduce the couple, then confess what he or she had done. This was the moment I feared the most.
“This is my wife, Laura,” he began. “We have been married for six months.”
When you’re sitting in a room of couples who have been married for thirty years, and your marriage is at risk just six months in, it’s not a red flag. It’s a fucking fireworks display of impending doom, complete with smoke signals and ribbon dancers telling you to get the fuck out, and do it now. But when you’re twenty four years old, still trying to make sense of how your best friend in the whole world could possibly do this to you, that isn’t what you see. It’s what you know that other people see. So you just don’t tell them what’s happening. You pretend it isn’t real.
But here we were, and the secret was out. We were the world’s worst honeymooners.
I was so ashamed that I couldn’t hold the heavy tears off any longer. They cascaded down my face in waves – audible sobs of pain and nausea, each more powerful than the last.
What can you do, darling? I heard them thinking. Can you possibly live your life knowing that your entire marriage was a sham? Why would you even enroll in a retreat to try and save it? There is nothing there to save.
But I loved him.
I continued to sob, bringing the room to a dead silence as he continued.
“We’re here because of me,” he stated cooly, staring at the floor. “I messed up pretty badly. I had sex with another woman. I went on dates behind her back. And now we’re here to fix it.”
I emerged from my arm fortress, tear streaks breaking my face into five as I stared at my husband intently.
“That’s all you have to say?” I asked him as the room hung in silence.
My face scrunched up in physical pain as the last trace of make-up found its way onto a Kleenex. I started to shake again as I noticed a few of the women crying.
“What about the other women you had sex with? What about OK Cupid? And Friend Finder? You know, your premium membership.”
For such a vulnerable piece of human being, I was surprisingly articulate as I added in detail after detail. Not letting him escape his truth, what he had done to me. The pain he had caused. How he ruined us.
“Did you tell them you were using my money for all of it, too?” I continued, my body heating as I gained momentum. “Because you were also unemployed. You fucked other women while I went to work to earn our rent. And while I was there, you spent the money I was making on hotel rooms.”
He stared at the floor, ashamed and crimson as I finished my rant.
“Yes. That’s all true,” he said softly. “And we’re here to make it better.”