My husband has a big story. He speaks with a big voice, carries a radiating presence and is generally surrounded by a big old group of people that want to be around him and hear about his journey. Everyone loves a good story, after all and he never disappoints. I was attracted to his light the first time I saw him too, so I understand this feeling. It’s his superpower. I’m somewhat the opposite. I adore my own presence in a room; very confident in where I’m strong, but I know I’m a slow burn; a more acquired taste. I have a small circle of very good friends that I rely fully on, even if I don’t see them often. I love who I am and I stand by that, but that’s not what this is about.
If you’re in my life, or reading along, you know of the challenges the last few years brought my family. It was the best and worst thing we’ve been through. He’s recently been asked to share this story. He’s taken up a platform to support what he is passionate about and the more he shares, the more people ask him to share. There’s so much good in him sharing. The community he comes from needs more of this. The self-protection and ego runs rampant among this group of men, causing so many of them to choose death over admitting they need help. I see him and his passion for leading this charge and I love it. I, personally, live my life with one mode: over-sharing, so it’s cool to watch him dip his toes into vulnerability and watch the ripple effects.
I’ve noticed him dance around the story, learning to tell it gently; in a way that made everyone around him more comfortable. He started with a pretty little package; a lovely gift wrapped perfectly with a golden bow on top. He dripped the hardship on top of this package enough to let people see everything he’s made it through, but was careful to leave the package still intact, leaving the darkest moments untold. I could feel the fear, and I understood it. It’s terrifying. People often view him as an action figure, almost. He’s survived so much and comes off larger than life. I felt him afraid to let them down; afraid to reveal the cracks in the paint.
Last night, he came to me and asked to share the real story. He was recording a podcast and something in him was pushing him to open up a little bit more. I listened from our bedroom until midnight as he recounted this story to a podcast host that was here for the mess. I sat there as he replayed some of the worst moments of my life and his. I cried and had to take a few hundred deep breaths. But he spilled it.. He ripped that stupid gift wrap off and showed what was really inside. And it was beautiful.
So I think it’s my turn. I realize how terrified I’ve been of this story too. Not for the same reasons, but frozen in some level of fear just the same. I’ve been stuck with my story in the same way he has been.
Two and a half years ago, my husband was very near death. He came to after a surgery having had a very illuminating experience that gave him some level of higher understanding of what we actually important. At this moment, he chose to confess to me that he had been having a long term relationship with someone else. He was terrified of leaving this Earth and having his funeral be when I discovered he wasn’t who he had projected himself to be. He pictured this all playing out on the worst day of my life and that being the legacy that he left behind. Two years of lies. Two years. My mind couldn’t wrap itself around it.
I remember every single detail of that moment. I probably always will. It’s weird how I can barely remember to take my car keys with me when I leave the house, but I can remember what the sky looked like and smell the salt air from the car window on my way home from the hospital that night. I remember bringing him a very specific flavor of ice cream to his hospital room and the energy in the air. I remember it all.
The first thing my brain did was blame her. I think we seek out control in these moments and sometimes it looks like blame. I remember wondering everything about this other woman. What did she look like? What did she have that I didn’t? Did he love her? Did he share secrets with her? My mind ran through these details over and over; a harsh punishment of self-judgment. It must be my fault. I wasn’t fun enough, pretty enough, thin enough, successful enough. It had to be me, afterall. I ran through every memory I could think of with him in the last two years and ripped them to shreds. The joy, the laughter, the peace, all melting into hurt and lies. My life was evaporating in front of my eyes. I wanted so badly to place the blame somewhere. But we all know that doesn’t always work that way. And even if it did, it wouldn’t make a damn thing feel better.
I sat at a park overlooking the bay, watching the most gorgeous sunset and screamed to the Universe. This life I thought I had was falling apart. The man I loved so deeply might not love me that deeply. But he was so sick. He might not make it long enough for us to have a future together. He asked me to stay, asking for forgiveness. He needed me. I felt my head about to explode. I had no idea what the right thing was to do. Looking back now, I can see there really was no “right thing”, but just a chance to choose something.
Ya’ll….life is fucking hard. We are faced with decisions like this all the damn time. Some of ya’ll have made decisions far tougher than this and I am constantly awed by that fact, but this was my hardest moment. I sat there and cried. I called my wonderful friend who immediately rallied a trip to Target to supply me with everything I could need at that moment (a bath bomb, wine and an eye mask obviously) and just lost my shit. Everyone needs a friend that says “I have nothing to say, but I’m on my way right now”. I have that friend. Several of them, actually. I will NEVER forget what she did for me that night.
I have no idea how I made it through that night without stripping my clothes off naked and running insanely through the woods, but I made it through until the sun came up over the trees. I woke up to another day, despite feeling like I might not ever be able to face another one. This is how it happens, isn’t it? We think things cannot go on, but they do. We are so small in the grand scheme of things. The world continues on its path. We continue to wake up, and the pain lessons in tiny little increments day by day. And we grow.
And here’s what happened:
I walked into that hospital room and said “I will stand by you through this”. I didn’t know if I was going to stay his wife, but I did know deep down that he deserved someone to support him through this illness. My feelings of anger were so interwoven with deep love that I couldn’t separate them. I meditated daily to ask for guidance. I requested forgiveness for the terrible anger I was feeling towards them both. I learned that forgiving doesn’t mean forgetting or accepting. And I grew. I became stronger. I gained an insight into what truly matters and the nature of humanity. I walked. A lot. All those miles added up to a small little path to growth for me.
I chose to stay. I chose to say to this man that I had a life, a home and a family with “We can deal with this when you’re healthy”. I knew at that moment that his health was the priority. I also knew it wouldn’t always be the priority, but right then, it was.
I’ve always been good at understanding others’ perspectives. It’s not always fun, carrying this level of empathy, but sometimes it is. I saw this broken man and the mistakes he’d made. But I also saw my best friend; and deep in my heart, I knew that wasn’t a lie. I also saw myself, and my own imperfections. I knew I hadn’t cheated, but I knew I was capable of being in just the same situation if I allowed it. So I stayed. I sat in that hospital room; angry, devastated, in love, in hate and all the other possible feelings that could exist simultaneously. Real love is deeply messy like that.
I called that woman one day. I wanted to understand who would do that to another woman. I’ve always been a girl’s girl. Female friendship is what I value over all else, so I just had so much trouble relating to her actions. I had more questions than answers, and I’ve learned that will always probably be the case. I will never understand her decision. But I will also never understand why I value this and she doesn’t. And none of that matters. Her life is not mine to live. Her mistakes are her own. I have my own to deal with.
I always thought I would be someone who would burn a man’s shit in the front yard if he cheated. I guess every angry cheating song inspired me enough to believe I had that in me. I thought I could easily let the anger take over and walk the hell out without looking back. In my vision of this scenario, I was somewhere between Alanis Morissette and Beyonce, with a touch of Carrie Underwood with a bat in my hand. Here’s what that narrative ignores: a decade of laughter and memories together, a child you raised together, a deep understanding of another human that really knows you and all the details of who you are as a person. When it happens in real life, it’s not so cut and dry. It’s messy as hell and there is no right answer. There are complexities to our unique relationships that no one else can understand. And guess what? They don’t have to. Because their relationships are theirs, and mine are mine.
For two years, I’ve carried shame and self-judgment around with me like a little mini backpack full of fucking rocks. After all, there aren’t a lot of country songs about staying. Even the Queen Dolly makes being the main chick seem a little lame. Come on ya’ll, even Jolene has always had more allure. I’ve judged myself and loved myself in a vicious cycle. I didn’t want to hear everyone’s damn opinions or judgment of him and his mistakes knowing that every one of them had their own too. It’s been truly exhausting. Today that stops. I’m proud of staying, and the grace I offered him. That’s the human I want to be. I want to tell people our story so they know it’s ok. It’s ok to stay. It’s ok to leave. It’s ok to be frozen.
What I don’t want you to hear is “stay” and “forgive”, because that’s not it at all. What I am saying is “be open”. Be open to the idea that you don’t have any idea what you’d do in a certain situation until you’re in it. Be open to letting yourself not know and be grateful you don’t have to.
I’m grateful to my husband for the hard work he’s put in to rebuild something so much stronger than we ever had. I’m grateful to myself for trusting my intuition and forgiving. I’m grateful to that woman for the perspective she’s offered me. I will not take my life for granted. The lessons I’ve learned have shaped who I am and who I will always be. And I’m grateful to ya’ll for reading this without judgment and loving me.