The restlessness was always there—even from the beginning.
Walking down the aisle on our wedding day, thoughts floated above me rather than through me. Colors bled outside the lines. Faces blurred into a sea, like a beautiful Monet mosaic painting, and the weight of the ceremony hung like balloons filled with sand over the entire scene. The prickly sensation that something wasn’t right poked around in my heart, until I found the strength to press it down into darkness.
I was always good at disconnection. I could shut myself off in an instant. It was so easy.
So when I went to bed night after night feeling unloved and unwanted and unfit, it was nothing to disconnect from that want. I could pretend it didn’t matter—that I didn’t need more. Yet, even with the pretending, there was this empty chasm that seemed to stretch on for miles.
The attention felt so good. After trying so hard to please my husband, pushing to be better, thinner, prettier, smarter, stronger, I had given up just a little. I had grown so weary, as days seemed to flip by faster and faster and so I had shifted my focus to other things like our children and work and school. When the attention came from him, I almost missed it completely. But then it was there, like a warm, yellow star burning a hole in my heart. I could feel myself turning toward it, welcoming it.
At first, it was small things. It was noticing a glance focused my way and held a few seconds longer. It was the conversations that had a wider girth to them other than stories of preschool and laundry and debts needing paid. It felt like for the first time, just maybe someone was looking not past me or around me but at me. I had wanted so much to just be seen. And here he was, seeing me.
I remember the first time it hit me that this was more than a friendship. Lying on my couch in the living room, television on and turned to something that I can’t remember, I found myself locked in a daydream of his hands on my waist. I imagined the touch of skin against mine, and a passion that I wanted to feel but never really had. It seemed harmless—a fantasy, a dream, nothing real, so no concern.
Except that one day, after a conversation had flourished, had peaked and valleyed, and the sun was setting lower leaving a burnt tangerine glow along the white painted walls, suddenly I felt him draw closer.
It was just a kiss, nothing more.
Turning my attention to my marriage and my family, I walled up all of the wants and the needs and pretended they didn’t exist. I would be okay. I could shut myself off. It was so easy. I could be numb to all that flew past me as I went along my days, like a sea of colors from one of those beautiful Monet paintings. I didn’t need any more than what I had and so it would be okay.
Except that it wasn’t.
I went through the motions. I got up each morning and showered and dressed and went about each day like all was fine, but the nights left me feeling a loneliness that pulled and tugged until I found myself one night collapsed silently weeping on the bathroom floor.
When he offered me a glint of hope, I took it with both hands and held on. Someone wanted me. Someone heard me.
The affair began.
It was exciting. Suddenly the person I had been for so long could slip quickly away as though she didn’t exist. This new person could be anyone. She could be smarter and stronger or smaller and weaker. It really didn’t matter because when she let herself fall into his arms she could totally disappear. She wasn’t wifey and mommy and she was needed differently, in this way.
She felt alive, which was so different than the nothing she had forced herself to feel for so long.
But there were inconveniences. There was the fact that they had to pretend they were only friends in public. There were the secret phone calls and arranged meeting times. There was the panic she felt when he brushed his hand against hers in the store. Did anyone see? There was the flushed skin when they came across people they knew while out to dinner. Would it be strange for us to be seen out so often?
And then there was her.
I had pretended for so long that she wasn’t a part of this story that I had almost forgotten about her. He had said their marriage was long dead and they stayed together for other reasons. This seemed to make sense at the time. But no matter how much I packaged her away, she was still there with him every night. She was there with him on weekends at home and sitting across from him at the Thanksgiving table, surrounded by their family. She was there and I was here, and yet again began the bristling and the poking and the wedging of my heart into tiny compartments.
I could love him on the days we were together, could I not? Did it matter that we were not really together? I could shut myself off from all of the thoughts that crept in while lying awake in my bed and hearing the wind force tree branches against the house siding. I could disconnect. It was so easy.
And then I couldn’t.
Like a pot of stew boiling over onto the stove and spitting droplets and steam and scalding my hands, I felt it all coming crashing to an explosive end. I pulled back. He pressed harder. And again, there was this divide that split me open leaving nothing but loneliness in its wake. For I couldn’t tell anyone about this strange and twisted relationship.
Then it was over. Not abruptly, as one would think, but rather dwindled piece by piece, just as a rope frays and loses its strength.
In the aftermath, I let myself mourn that woman who needed so badly to be seen. I sometimes still feel her popping her head out on lonely nights when she hears the winds whipping outside, forcing tree branches against the house siding and when the colors seem to fade and blend into a sea, like one of those Monet mosaic paintings. I whisper to her that it is okay to feel sad and alone and that she need not try to disconnect.
And I quiet the restlessness that stirs in her heart. Because she wants more than this.
Editor: Dana Gornall