I was...oh, Christ, I don't know if there are words enough in the English language to describe what all I felt over the course of the next few weeks and months. I was hurt, shocked, heartbroken, furious, traumatized, upended, terrified. I felt betrayed, violent, suicidal, humiliated, and unutterably sad. I injured myself—by mistake a few times but also on purpose, like a teenager, with a knife, and with coals from the fire. I was half wild with insomnia. For weeks on end, I slept maybe two hours a night, and ate little more than a hard-boiled egg and a chocolate a day. (I had never in my life lost my appetite so completely; this, at least, felt like a gift.) My mouth was dry and I was always freezing cold, shivering. I drank huge amounts of vodka and never felt drunk, as if my fury were burning off the alcohol the moment it entered my bloodstream. During the day, after Sam went to work, I dug through everything of his; it was the only activity I had the will for. At night, while he slept, I searched his laptop, cut his favorite sweaters to pieces, poured nail polish on his shirts, then woke him up, shouting, flailing, sobbing.
And yet there was one thing I knew right away: I was not ready to get divorced. In part this was simply because I realized I was too distraught to make a sensible decision. If I kicked Sam out in a rage, I might take him back once I cooled off, only to banish him again a few weeks later when more bad feelings hit. I couldn't do that to our kids.
But I was also reacting to the fact that I did not know who Sam was anymore; the person who had cheated on me was completely foreign to me (and to himself, as it turned out). I needed to find out who I was actually married to now. And whoever that person was, I knew (in my rare lucid moments) that our marriage must have stopped working for him somewhere along the way, and that fixing it was something we could only undertake together. I still felt attached to Sam—married to him, in my most random thoughts and habits, in my very blood and bones—and it seemed better to go through this trial with him than on my own.
The year following Sam's confession was wretched. I felt as if I were living forward and backward at the same time, excavating details about the past—ours and theirs—as I tried to figure out what came next: How could I keep our family on an even keel, and what could I do to fix our marriage, and was it even worth the trouble?
Sam went into therapy. I went into therapy. Night after night, we talked. I raged and called him names; he let me. I asked him questions and he answered, and although some of his replies will torment me forever (like, yes, they had sex in the bed in which we conceived our children), the mere fact that he was willing to talk made me feel safer and more connected, reassured me that he wasn't placing his memory of Daphne in a little private treasure box and pocketing the key.
Equally important was his willingness to apologize. "I'm sorry" is a remarkably powerful phrase when it comes from the heart.
"You can just keep on saying that," I told him. "Over and over, whenever you feel it." And he did.
There were moments when I actually felt a weird tender pity for Sam, who had come to our marriage with less knowledge of himself and less experience of the opposite sex than I had, and who seemed to have gotten in over his head with Daphne.
Weirder still, I was frequently (freakishly, it felt) turned on—especially in those first couple of months—and though I kept insisting to Sam that it was just break-up sex we were having (in the laundry room, guest room, car), I could not for the life of me understand why I was attracted to the jerk, let alone having the best sex of my married life with him.
I write this because no one told me what it would be like. When I called my closest friends in the city where I'd lived for so long (a place that suddenly felt very far away; I was unbelievably lonely that entire year) and revealed to them what had happened, I always wound up asking them if they knew anyone—anyone—who had been through this and made it out the other side, anyone who'd survived an affair and come out happily married. Because I wanted to believe it was possible, and to know how it could be done. What was normal? Was there a road map? How long would it take? None of my friends seemed to know such a couple. Other marriages might have survived an affair, but no one was talking.
"What is the difference between trusting someone and taking them for granted?"
We Hear You!