“You can’t honestly be serious,” I said. I knew it was cold, even for me, even for the circumstances. After all, the man was crying. Sobbing, really. But surely it wasn’t my job to comfort him, after all we’d been through.
We were in the middle of a TV show, and I, for one, wanted to see how it ended. I waited, my thumb hovering above the “play” button on the remote, for his bawling to wind down. He leaned forward, his face cupped in his broad hands, and sniffled, then let out another round of choked sobs.
I sighed and tossed the remote onto the glass coffee table. The battery compartment popped open and one of the batteries skittered across the table, sliding to the floor. I huffed as if this, too, had been his fault. Clearly, we were not going to get to finish the show. All because some jackass had cheated on his wife, and his daughter had found out about it, and she was now in the midst of screaming at him for being a lousy father on top of a lousy husband, single-handedly destroying her previously blissful life in a home with two married parents. Greg had looked at me, mouth open, and shaken his head.
“Oh, god,” he’d said. “Someday they’re going to hate me.”
This is what had ruined our evening. Someday they will hate him? The children he’d neglected for months while he was off with his mistress? Never mind how I felt. He had long maintained that the affair was somehow my fault, and that it couldn’t really have hurt me nearly as much as I claimed. No, it was the twins he now felt for. Not when he’d abandoned them, of course, leaving for three months without looking back, without ever asking how they were doing in his absence, or missing them, even for a moment. But now, months after he’d returned, when we were watching some has-been actor recite stale lines about how he’d screwed up his entire life by cheating on his wife, then getting caught by his teenage daughter. This was to be the defining moment, when Greg finally realized the gravity of his choices, the long-lasting damage he’d done. I went to the kitchen for a bowl of ice cream.
It’s not that I’m heartless and cold and that’s why he cheated. I mean, the sight of a dead dog on the side of a highway brings tears to my eyes, every time. And I frequently have to turn off a movie or TV show about ailing or dying children. My heart just can’t stop thinking this could be my kids, or my friends’ kids, and it just hurts too much to go on watching. Not to mention that I have moon and several planets in Pisces. One thing about anyone with a strong Pisces presence in their astrological chart, you never have to worry about toting around your emotional baggage when they’re on hand. We’re more than happy to carry it around for you. It just becomes part of our make-up when we’re around you. We feel what you feel, only on a deeper level. Pisces have a high rate of addiction for this reason, to numb down all of that emotional awareness. My only addiction is to sobriety, so I’m good there.
I can be tough, sure. I was raised by a single mother, was taught to be independent and reliable and unafraid of life’s little side trails and bumpy main roads. But I’m also soft-spoken and loyal and the kind of person everyone always counts on to do the right thing. The kind of person everyone always counts on, period. Previous loves have told me that’s my greatest flaw, if you can believe that. That I’m too kind, too calm, too rock-solid. They feel my lack of emotional outbursts makes me impenetrable or something. Most of them have gone through some phase of pushing me just to get a reaction, just to make sure there’s some strong emotion in there, and then been sorry when they did.
I am a calm person. I don’t panic in a crisis, I never lose my temper at work, I don’t hang up on you when you’ve had a terrible day and accidentally take it out on me. Instead, I slowly talk you down, bring you back to the soothing waters of my existence. This isn’t just the person I am, it’s the person I want to be.
But when pushed, forced to react to some pressure being exerted on me, I can muster a stubborn nature that no one can override. It’s not a question of asserting power or getting my way, it’s just something within me that simply cannot give in, and so conceding is not an option. If you really want to fight, then I will fight. And I will win. I may have a Pisces moon, but I’m a Scorpio, and unable to change that nature.
Perhaps it is unnecessary to point out that forgiveness isn’t my strong suit.
When I finally had undeniable proof of Greg’s affair (emails, phone records, a nice sloppy trail of evidence, if only I’d had the courage to look sooner), my first reaction was to tell him to pack, leave, and never contact me or my children (and I carefully used those words “my children”) again. I had long suspected he was having an affair, as there was no other explanation for his sudden coldness, not just toward me, but toward our young children. No other explanation for the months of endless “business trips” he had scheduled back to back during what was, historically, his lightest travel season. No other explanation for his sudden need to sleep on the couch on the rare occasions when he was home (a sore back, he’d first claimed, then, later, that he couldn’t be in the same room with me and my inexplicable anger). No other explanation for his sudden attachment to his cell phone, which he used to turn off and leave on a shelf in the evening and on weekends, suddenly living in his pocket, where he checked it every few minutes, like an addict getting his fix.
And I don’t say that lightly, the part about addiction. I think, above all, that’s what set me off the most. I’ve seen addiction in a variety of forms. I’ve lived around it all my life. Child of an alcoholic. It’s so trite and overshared that I’m reluctant to even admit it, but there it is, it has shaped me, so why deny it? And while I’m at it, why not mention: granddaughter and niece to alcoholics, cousin to both alcoholics and drug addicts, sibling and daughter to binge eaters, and step-sister to a bottomed-out gambler. I know that look addicts have, that itch, that nervous need for something. And Greg had that look, as he scurried to the garage, the bathroom, the side yard, phone in hand, a furtive glance behind him to make sure he wasn’t being followed, and it set off every alarm and sense of self-preservation in my body. But this time, I wasn’t a child who could hide in the closet, ensconced in the pile of handmade quilts for safety. I was a mother of twin babies, the girls just seven months old when their father all but vanished from the landscape of their budding lives, and they were my first and only concern.
I am grateful that my mother had trained me in the ways of a single mother, as from that point forward I considered myself to be one, despite the fact that he refused to leave. He broke it off with her (or so he claimed, and with the best of my spying skills I could find no proof otherwise), and renewed his dedication to our family. He cut back on his travel, made an effort to get to know these kids who had not seemed to interest him in quite some time, we went to marriage counseling and practiced the nightly sessions of listening and confiding that our therapist suggested for us.
I continued to care for the children, the pets, the house, the extended family, and him. But I did not come close to forgiving him, or letting him back into my heart. I stayed because I saw a change in my children (and I still saw them as “my” children) once he started paying attention to them. I saw how much fuller their lives would be with two parents, I saw that with his renewed dedication to helping out (and, yes, his guilt), that I might actually be able to have a few hours to myself each week, after nearly a year of no such down time. And so I rescinded my order that he leave. That’s not to say that I did so kindly. I believe my exact words were: “You can stay, because I don’t want to have to tell them that I’m the one who took you out of their lives. If you leave, that’s on you. If they lose their father over this, it’ll be all on you.”
Which brings us back to my unsympathetic reaction to his crying jag that night. You see, even as the shock of overhearing his call to his mistress, all cooing apologies and promises for future trips together, was settling in, I was aware of how my actions would affect the lives of those innocent babies caught in the shock waves of our violently shaken marriage. So the realization that this thought occurred to him only six months after breaking it off with her struck me as particularly ill-timed and overdue. And my anger at the fact that I had been considering my children’s well-being (physical as well as mental and emotional) every single day since the day they were conceived, while he had only just begun to do so, flared anew.
The ice cream helped, though. It reminded me not to give voice to my thoughts as I ate slowly, watching him pull himself back together. After I’d cooled my rage with Ben and Jerry’s, I was even able to reach over and stroke his broad back. It wasn’t genuine concern, or at least not uninhibited compassion, but I was a little worried, as always, that he might snap back into that cold distant person that I now knew resided within him, and head upstairs to pack, cell phone in his jittery, eager hand.
We didn’t discuss his feelings that night, or mine, for that matter. We went to bed early, made love in the fragile new ways of strangers who used to be intimate. Sex, for me, had become a minefield. I had always enjoyed sex. The passion, the rush, falling off the cliff of orgasm, the fatigue in the wake of the act, dozing in each other’s arms. I wasn’t one of those women who thought climax-free sex was just as satisfying, I wasn’t in it solely for the feeling of closeness after it was over. For me, it was the act that I enjoyed, but the act never quite felt real anymore. He fumbled with my nightshirt, and I found myself trying desperately to bury images of him having sex with her, while I left message after message on his cell phone, our sick child’s fever rising, wanting his opinion on how to treat her, wondering where he was.
At some point, I noticed that he never kissed me during sex anymore. Hadn’t since before the affair. I didn’t want it to matter. I wanted our sex life, like our marriage, to be about what we had, not what was lacking, but there were so many landmines, and so few safe paths to walk. I, pulling my anger down into my abdomen, was able to have an orgasm, but he wasn’t, and we fell into fitful sleep beside each other. His nose was stuffy from crying, and his snoring kept waking me. Back when we were closer, I’d have rolled him onto his side to quell the snoring. But in this new version of our marriage, I was never sure which touches were allowed, which ones were kind and which ones might drive him into the arms of another woman. So I lay stiffly beside him and chased sleep instead.