The way I found out about it always comes as a surprise to people when they ask. And they always ask.
Maybe not verbally, but I see it in people’s eyes when I run into them in the supermarket. I saw eyes wandering to my left ring finger in the weeks after I came home, people would make small talk while investigating the status of my marriage finger.
I have felt it when people would hug me hello, holding me a second too long, and with a little tighter than you would that girl you went to high school with.
The “Hey, how are you doing!?” greetings would tend to ring a little louder in these strangers mouths as they unsuccessfully tried to cloak the tone of curiosity.
And I get it. I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t want to know too.
For those who really had no idea, they’d think I was just in town visiting family and they’d ask about my upcoming nuptials, then I’d see the instant horror on their face when I casually responded, “Oh that didn’t quite work out!”
I always felt worse for the receiver of this information than for myself. I could handle it. These people I had known at one point or another were unintentionally putting their foot in their mouth, and I could always tell they felt bad.
The overall theme of how my anticipated life came to a screeching halt always seems to be received with surprise and shock.
The day I found out was just a mundane Monday in October.
Nothing particularly interesting was going on that week for us. We woke in the bed we shared together, in the home we bought together, in the neighborhood we planned to have children in.
He got up before me, his usual routine, and I could hear his footsteps take the same pattern they took everyday. I could feel the crack of light shine on my face as he opened our walk-in closet to get a clean work shirt. I could hear the plastic swishing as he shifted through all the new dry cleaning I had just put on his side. The final step was always his cologne, and I liked this because it left his scent in our bedroom.
He came to my side of the bed, pushed my hair back and kissed me just like he did every morning. Although, this morning it was harder and longer, and he wrapped both his arms around my body. He whispered the words pretty girl in my ear and I could feel the heat of his breath, the familiar way he would embrace me.
It was all basically normal, although it wasn’t normal at all.
Once he left, I turned over in our bed. I saw the imprint of where his body had slept that night. I sat up, in slow motion, counting the minutes I had to get myself together and to school. I had absolutely no reason to sense anything was different, but I did.
The thought, something’s wrong, kept repeating in my mind.
I have noticed over the past year and 9 months that people do not believe me when I say I had no idea what I was going to find out that day. They say that a woman who has been cheated on always really knows.
And although now, after the fact, I can piece some things together from the few days leading up to this morning—yes there were things I questioned—but I can tell you, as the woman who was cheated on, that I had no idea. And that is the truth.
I can also tell you, that if I had known, I would not have purchased a wedding dress only weeks before, and I would not have reserved my wedding venue. A woman who knows she is being cheated on would not make these advances in her wedding plans. It’s that simple.
I drove the 7 minutes it takes to get to school and sat through my usual line up that day.
He left me messages on my phone, planning our entire next weekend out. He professed his love for me with the reinforcement of his usual pet names for me. I remember responding as if the thoughts screaming in my head were non-existent. Like a robot, like the woman he had always known. Then I realized while sitting in my History class, that the woman he had always known was gone for good.
Then I arose in my chair, with another forty five minutes left of class, collected my books, and without making any eye contact found the exit door. I felt the eyes of my Professor on my back, and the stares of my fellow classmates as I started moving towards my inevitable destiny.
The drive to our house felt so long, some part of me knew that I’d never be making this drive again.
I parked the car, unlocked our door, and walked the direct path to our bedroom. I sat on his side of the bed, and without hesitation opened up the first of several journals that have been on his nightstand since the day we met.
At random, I opened up to a page, with a passage that started with, “ F*cked C’s sister last night.”
This is a moment you can never prepare for. This was not in the handbook my mother provided to me when I started dating. This is not a sentence you imagine you will read from the pen your fiance held.
No, this is not how it was supposed to go.
I flipped through page after page, the more I read the more I needed to see.
I read the intimate details of all the women he was not just having sex with, but meticulously documenting their escapades together. I saw the names of women constantly changing. Details so graphic that a porn star would feel bashful reading them.
And where did I exist in this personal novel?
His love for me was intermingled throughout the details of his hate for my cellulite, the way he considered me a “bigger woman” while the petite stature of the women he was f*cking was actually what he preferred.
I finally shut the last journal and there was no rage then, but an overwhelming fear for the life I had just discovered this man was living.
The fear was entwined with the reality that I did not actually know this man who claimed to love me, who planned to wed me, and an inability to comprehend how he was capable of such betrayals. The biggest betrayal of all, found (or not found) within the pages of this journals was the thing that was missing, and that was remorse.
Not once did I see a moment of reflection that he was sorry, or ashamed. This is when I called my getaway car.
You never plan who you will call the day your life gets turned upside down.
And you don’t think twice as you react in a time of need. I knew getaway would answer when I called, and I could hear the concern in her voice before I even blurted out my findings, as if she had already known what I was calling about.
I’ll never forget how she sprung into action, her voice calm and direct, “Where are you?” I cried the four letter word that now felt foreign in my mouth, “I’m at home! “ She said only, “I’m on my way.”
Getaway lives 45 minutes away from me, but I heard her pull into my driveway only 20 minutes after we hung up. While waiting, I had walked every step of the house, once my home, feeling the dead air in every room.
The creaks in the floors, the markings on the walls we made after hanging our pictures wrong, the special ordered washer and dryer that I had done this man’s laundry in every week; I took it all in. I looked in the empty bedrooms where I imagined a crib would be, and I put my cheeks against the cold granite in my kitchen where I had hosted our first family Christmas dinner.
Getaway burst through my door and put her arms around me. I remember the tears in her eyes that had collected on her drive over here, not knowing how’d she’d find me. I looked at her, sobbing, hearing her say only, “I know… I know…”.
Against her will I’m sure, I dragged her into my kitchen, opened up one of his journals and made her witness some parts of what I had read. I needed confirmation.
Getaway looked at me and without judgement, said;
“I’m here and I support anything you want to do, but what do you want to do?”
“Leave, I want to go home.”
So without another word, getaway did the things I could not muster the strength to do. She went straight to my bedroom and started collecting all the things she knew I’d need. I watched her make piles, with seamless thoughts of how to pack your best friend’s shambled life up and get her to a safe place.
I don’t remember packing a thing, I remember standing there watching her as though in slow motion.
This is how you find out who knows you. In a moment like this, I think I should’ve been concerned about collecting my social security card and passport stored safely in his desk. Or the bank statements, or expensive items like my MacBook and iPod.
But as I watched getaway pack our cars, I saw all the things that defined me most find it’s way into my car; My favorite jeans, my curling iron, Roscoe the Rugby bear, and my $2,500 dollar special edition Louis Vuitton purse.
I likely never told her this, but this gesture from someone who knew me as a little girl, who collected the things I cared about most, made me feel safe again.
So we sat at my kitchen table, all packed and ready to go with only one last thing to do…call him.
It was barely 3PM so my only option was to interrupt him at work. I did not know what I would say when I called. I did not know how he would react. I did not know how I would feel or if I’d even be able to speak to him.
I called his cell, which went to voicemail. I rang his desk and there he answered in his usual business voice and full name greeting. I spoke to him as though nothing was wrong. Like I was just calling to say I love you.
Our conversation was normal at first, and then it wasn’t.
“Hi Babe, hope your’e not too busy! Oh a meeting soon? Gotcha, well I’ll be quick then…I know everything…”
The details of the conversation that followed are not important and mostly I just remember what he didn’t say, his silence.
I remember too wondering where my sense of calm was coming from.
How, in such a moment of devastation, your body will simply lead you. After ending the call I stood up with getaway knowing it was time to go, forever.
I left the open journal on the kitchen table, on the exact page I had the privilege of reading first. Immediately, I felt my engagement ring tighten around my finger. And the thought hit me, what do I do with this? How does this work? Do I leave it? Is it no longer mine?
Getaway answered my thoughts as if she could hear every word in my head, “Take that with you.”
And off we went, back to my original home, on my parents 35th wedding anniversary, to tell them I was home to stay.
Your best friend will always make sure you take the ring…and your Louie.
Author: Megan A. Park
Editor: Renee Jahnke