It’s easy enough to blame my affair on my dead dad.
My husband and I met at Brown University. J was tall and golden and tanned. I imagined myself with someone dark and nebbish. He was a swimmer who wrote passionate stories and grew his own pot. My imaginary partner and I would sit to avoid our four left feet and stay out of trouble doing a crossword. My future husband would never be satisfied by such a simple grid. He created his own world snowboarding out of bounds, losing himself in atonal guitar, and populating imaginary universes with violent aliens. He represented infinite possibility. I was just trying to keep my grades up.
I grew up an hour from Providence so it was easy to take him home to show him off. My father was an artist who ate steaks and listened to sports radio. He worked for himself whenever he wanted. He even hired someone to take out the garbage. My boyfriend saw first hand that a life without rules was possible. I was both happy and wary when they started spending time together in my father’s studio.
After graduation J didn’t look for a job. My father had taught him what he always knew…that he was too good for the grind. He worked for my father two afternoons a week. The rest of the time he was out on bike rides or listening to jam music too stoned to speak. He embraced a life apart, fueled and funded by my father. I thought space from my father and a fresh start might help us both. We moved to Vermont but took all of our baggage with us.
After my father was diagnosed with terminal cancer he pressured me formalize my relationship. Unlike many parents he didn’t exert his will through advice or pleas. Instead he covered up our problems and bound J and I together. When we moved to Vermont he built a studio for J so he could continue “working” for him. He insisted that I put J on the deed of house that I bought, tying us together legally before we even talked about marriage.
Just as my relationship had lost all of its luster we got married. I knew. I knew at the time that my answer was “I don’t” not “I do.” Still I went through with it. My father needed to know that I was settled before he could let go. I figured the gift to my dad was worth another year or two of a lonely life. We had a tented dinner on the lawn of our lovely lake front house. I didn’t dance. When J and I got back to our hotel room we fell asleep side by side without touching. I dreamed of rowing away, our little lake the mouth to a much larger body of water. One that I navigated alone.
We drove back to Vermont in grey mist, which never really lifted.
In the end I wasn’t brave enough to do anything alone. The next Golden Boy was the catalyst I needed to leave my marriage. The object of my lust was also unhappily married. He was a slightly grown up frat boy who laughed and teased in a way my haughty husband never would. It started the evening the two couples sat on the couch watching Jerry Maguire. The other woman’s husband had his dog at his feet. His hand was entwined in long fur. He stroked the dog gently at first then with more force. With each escalation of affection he caught my eye. It was strange but effective foreplay.
Like most cheaters I began to collect ammunition against my husband. He didn’t have a job, he smoked pot daily, he took himself too seriously, I hadn’t had an orgasm with him in months. The list was nothing compared to the big transgression. My father, his champion and patron lay dying three hours away and he never went with me to visit. I was commuting weekly between work and graduate school making the drive to sit by my father’s bedside. My husband stayed away because my father had taught him that that opting out was an option.
In the end I left J before my father died. I hadn’t lasted six months in our marriage. My father was ill enough then that he never knew that his matchmaking had failed. I moved out through freezing rain and on that one day J was the partner that I hoped for. He bought me a tea pot with two handmade mugs for my new apartment. He wanted to move me in, but instead the other man helped me get settled. My apartment was on a river with a rushing waterfall. After sending them both away I sat in front of the window and watched the icy rain pour into the water.
On Valentines day I spent another secret evening with the other man in my apartment. When the phone rang at 11:42 I knew my father had died. I sat on the scratchy carpet listening to the river rush outside. My tears flowed just as quickly. I felt a face against my back and arms that held me as I wept. For a few tortured months we stuck out the affair. We tried to turn it into a public relationship to justify our infidelity to the world. Yet the best of what we had was ours alone. I helped him out of a low point of his life and he held my hand as I climbed out of the murky waters of the death of my father and my relationship.
It might be easy to blame my affair on my father, but it is not fair. I chose a partner for me who couldn’t be my partner. My dad followed my lead, helping us to settle down in a way that was purely settling. At the time I felt shame over the fact that I wasn’t strong enough to stay single, and even more misery that I needed to cheat to be free. Over the years the shame has stilled. The rapids have slowed, allowing me to climb to shore on the other side on my own.
Eventually I made it onto higher ground. Looking back at the wreckage of lost loves I realized could learn to navigate.
It turns out I have confused some folks with this post. The affair that I am writing about happened in 2000. The husband I cheated on was not Steve. Steve and I have an incredible relationship brought to us in part by my past mess.