What (or whom) did you let go of this year? Why? (Author: Alice Bradley)
I’ve let go of trying to have it both ways.
It all started with a handshake. A handshake tells a lot about a person. It tells you about their self-esteem, about the type of person they are, about how they were raised. My father taught me early how to shake hands. “Jennifer,” he said, “people will take you seriously if you make eye-contact and give a firm, full-palm handshake.” (He also taught me how to throw a punch, but this handshake thing is something I use much more frequently.) I shake hands with everyone I meet. It’s a symbol of respect; an old-school action that’s fallen by the wayside. When I’m drinking, I will not hesitate to call someone out on their poor handshake. “You shake hands like a girl!” I’ll snicker. “Would you shake your buddy’s hand like that?!” It’s always good for a laugh and has become rather a trademark of mine.
It was no different when I met J, the gentleman with whom I’d embark on a modern day love affair….
This past April, I suggested to my husband that we get away for a long weekend. My birthday was the excuse, but really, we needed some time to get away and be together; to get back to even. He was in the process of separating from the Navy and had accepted a position in what can only be described as the armpit of Washington State. I’d left jobs and friends on previous moves, but this one was different. I’d had no input in the decision, and he’d waved off all of my concerns as irrational. Day by day, I was feeling less and less a partner in my marriage and more like a roommate. With no voice in the one place where it should have been the most important, the pit in the bottom of my stomach was growing daily. Each fresh hurt piled on the previously bruised places, and my eyes shone with resentment and loathing. I felt small and useless, picked on and forgotten; a small roadblock to be plowed over heedlessly on the way to his fantastic new opportunity.
He looked over me sightlessly and told me that it wouldn’t be possible; there may or may not be a particular “separation” appointment scheduled for him during that time. In the cult of Navy life, there was certainly the possibility that this was true, but I wouldn’t believe that there wasn’t a way he could have worked around those four days. I looked at him quietly, wounded beyond measure, and accepted his answer. In reality, even if I’d had the words at that point, he more than likely would have laughed them off anyway. I retreated further and nodded my head. In the past few years, I’d been pushed by tiny degrees so far over my line in the sand that I couldn’t remember where I’d originally drawn it. This was one more nick on my already pulpy and tender self and I cried myself to sleep.
Battered, I made a fateful decision to fly to North Carolina with the money I’d saved for that weekend. I had a girlfriend there who assured me that even though early in the season, there was more than a small possibility that it’d be nice enough to laze on the beach. She didn’t need to tell me twice. I booked my ticket and went. On the verge of tears almost constantly at that point, I needed a respite….and a lot of cabernet.
For those five days, we adventured and caroused, laughed and drank. She’d moved there only a short while before, so we had a grand time exploring her new city arm-in-arm, smiling more than I had for the previous year. That Saturday night, we were out with her friends from work, when we were joined by J, someone else they knew. I reached out my hand and introduced myself, dismayed to be presented with yet another limp wrist. I looked up, shook my head and let fly with my characteristic harrangue. Satisfied that I’d made my point (and made this new-to-me group of people laugh), I took one last drag of my Parliament we all made our way to the next bar.
We all sat in a circle of couches and chatted the time away. It was the first night in my recent memory that I was meeting people that had nothing to do with my husband or his rugby team or the Navy. It reminded me with quite a bit of force how far I’d strayed from the girl I’d been before. We talked about books, and politics and travel and life and not a single one of us waxed into buffoonery. I was happy, and having a grand time.
Shots were called for, and it was my round, so I headed to the bar to expedite the request; Candy Apples or some such. J showed up next to me to help carry the shots and to ask that one of the shots be Crown. “Whiskey!” I said. “Fantastic idea!” So we changed two of the shots to whiskey, Crown for him and chilled Beam for me, and made our way back to the table for the ‘amateurs’ in our group. Between the shots of whiskey and our opinions on the ideology of Fidel Castro, this dark and tattooed boy and I became fast friends.
After a sound beating at a round of after-hours Rummy, my girlfriend and I would take our leave, headed back to the hotel and the rest of our long weekend.
With what I know now to be a streak of masochism, I ‘friend requested’ J (and the others) the next day, and was on my way home to Seattle that Monday. I tried to describe my time to my husband, who listened with only the faintest interest, telling me that “Of course [I] had a good time, [I] was on vacation!”
After our move, because I’d had to give up my job, it had always been the plan that I would travel home for a while to see family and friends. Further conversations with my girlfriends in NC decided that I’d stop by again for a few weeks on my way up to NY. It would be hotter, and I longed for a tan and the beach. It seemed only natural to include my newest friends on the plans as well.
Over the next few weeks, (some of the most stressful I’ve ever had) I chatted regularly with J on IM. We talked for cumulative hours. I’d find myself looking forward to going home in order to get on the computer to say hello. He asked insightful questions and showed a genuine interest my answers. We’d read so many of the same things and his suggestions turned out to be well worth my time. He made me laugh, and this small joy made my life bearable. If my husband was disinterested in my day, J would listen with ears wide open. If I was on the verge of homicide at work, J would be outraged and petulant. I was absorbed.
It was maybe three weeks into our friendship when messages started to get cheeky. And then they went from cheeky to the borderline of inappropriate. And then they crossed that line. I was flirting openly and outrightly with someone who was not my husband. Yet, as wrong as it was, and as guilty as I felt, I was getting something I needed out the relationship. I was beautiful again, and funny; I was being valued and respected. And it had been such a long, long time.
My husband and I were into our second week of the move, living in a hotel, when I came out of the shower one morning to find him glowering at me with my iPhone in his hand demanding: “Who is J?” My heart sank to the depths at that moment and I was caught, red-handed. He and I, the night before had finally broached the subject of the big “D”, and I knew right then that he’d think that these messages were my sole reasoning. As uncomfortable as I was, I came clean and told him everything. It was a long two days, painful and sickening for both of us, but we decided that we’d try again.
I agreed to stop the inappropriate contact with J, but refused absolutely to give up contact altogether. I was getting things from him that I hadn’t realized I’d missed. Our talks about books and his writing had become incredibly important to me. I was absolutely not willing to let go of those things that had reminded me of me.
It was now the beginning of June, and there were barely days before I was to leave for my foray home for a couple months with a detour first to Asheville and then Wilmington. I left on a Tuesday night and began my Odyssey. Over my husband’s protests, I would see J a number of times before taking my leave of NC and heading up to NY. We spent many hours together. My girlfriend had to work for much of the first week I was there, and he was happy to show me around and ferry me back and forth to the beach on the days that I didn’t use her car.
We laughed and talked and had a generally large time. Those days, for me, were punctuated by hostile (understandably) emails from my husband, and sun-drenched hours at the beach in the company of a man who was rapidly becoming a very close friend.
I was cheating. Plain and simple. I don’t believe that there are degrees of it. I was making a cuckold of my husband and I knew it. Waves of guilt would pass over me and I would wonder what I was doing. Where did I expect this to go? Was I honestly ready to leave? Had I really tried my hardest to get my points across? Had I made enough effort? Had I given my husband enough of a chance to be the man I married? I didn’t know. But I felt as though I deserved this small bit of happiness; this light, this laughter, this spark.
And so, after I left Wilmington for NY, my correspondence continued. Thousands of messages and texts. Pages of emails, hours of conversation. It wasn’t sordid, it was nice. To have someone to talk to, to listen to, to share with. It was what my husband and I had had before things changed so hugely. It was what I wanted and needed. And most of all, it was something that I didn’t know if I could get back from the man I belonged to.
I spent a lot of time in NY thinking. Rebuilding. Finding myself again. Figuring out what it was that I wanted. While I talked to J the whole time, my guilt was constantly growing. I was being unfair and selfish to someone I’d promised to spend the rest of my with. What kind of person was I becoming? This wasn’t me. Wasn’t who I was raised to be. This was someone altogether different. How did I get to this point?
At home, my husband was promising me that he understood. That he finally got it. That he could be the man I was in love with, the man I stood on an alter with and pledged myself to. And a large part of me believed him. So I flew back to him. Flew back to try again. Flew back to see if we could both forgive; him my indiscretion and me all the past hurts.
For over two months, J and I continued to speak. Continued to share our lives and our wishes and thoughts and laughter. When I was home and lonely, he was there. When I read something that made me laugh, he was there. He made it easy to believe him when he said he’d be around for whatever I needed.
But in the end, it was always there. The guilt. The remorse. I was hurting so many people in this equation. By continuing this relationship, I was continuing to substitute J for what I wasn’t getting from my husband, and I wasn’t giving my husband a chance to fill those voids–to make good on his promise that he could be again everything that I needed. We could have gone on that way indefinitely. I was robbing from Peter to pay Paul and it was wrong. For anything to work, I needed to go all in.
And so I let go. I let go of J and I stopped standing on the fence. I stopped all but the smallest, infrequent contact and gave myself back to my husband. It’s sink or swim time, and it’s the only way. It’s been a difficult and messy, messy part of my life. In the end, it was a matter of shit, or get off the pot. I either needed to allow the man I married to BE that man, or cut the chord and allow us to go our separate ways. I’m choosing to let him be that man. I believe in his efforts. I believe in us.