as people often do.
my afternoon was spent sorting through memories. piles of photos in random boxes and binders. Each 4×6 triggering thousands of thoughts. Laughter. Sorrow. Pride. Regret. Stories buried beneath the surface. Memories I cherish and those I would give anything to erase. But some stories, for better or worse, need to be told.
This is my story. A story originally scribbled on wrinkled notebook paper and shoved in a dresser drawer a lifetime ago. A story I could not muster the courage to share.
This story is mine and mine alone. It is frighteningly similar to those told by countless women throughout history. A story, which now that I am safe and happily married seems foreign. As though it happened to someone else.
But it didn’t.
It is mine.
And it is hard and ugly and real.
And it is about time I tell it.
To forgive myself.
To give women strength to walk away.
A beautiful man was waiting for me the whole time. A man that is my entire heart. A man that worships me and pushes me to be a better human. A man who believes in me. Who sees the good in my soul. Who forgives me my past.
The pain was worth it. It all was. I am stronger. Healthier. More confident in myself than before. But I cannot bury my truth.
This is my story.
He was thirty and married. She was twenty-five and on maternity leave. I was twenty-two and stupid.
When I met him, I was already in an intense, passionate, and terrifying five-year relationship with a man five years my senior. He was serious. Driven. I was scared to death he would propose so I selfishly threw my affections towards another man.
We met at the office as people often do.
We got carried away.
He explained his marriage was on the brink of failure. Claimed the relationship was cold and forced. A total façade. They were doomed before stepping one foot down the aisle. The baby was a failed attempted at salvaging what they once had. At being a family.
He told me their baby girl magnified already glaring problems.
He told me they fell apart.
He told me they were getting a divorce.
We crashed instantly and violently into each other.
He was straight laced and corny, with a penchant for expensive shoes and designer gifts. He had abominable taste in music and wore copious amounts of khaki. He golfed.
I told him dirty jokes while slamming whiskey and dragged him to rock shows in filthy dive bars. I wore skintight denim and had his birthday tattooed on my wrist.
In turn, he wrote me love letters.
I believed them.
Looking back it was predictable.
I trusted liquor-fueled nights in sleazy hotel rooms over common sense.
The drama seemed romantic.
I believed myself Juliet and trusted we would find happily ever after.
Eventually, of course, I had to face the music. In front of all his friends, my long time beau discovered I had been dating another man, a married man, for months. I lost my loyal boyfriend, many friends, and my entire horror movie collection inside a moment.
I wish I could say the story ended there; reality hit and I reclaimed my life and my dignity.
Instead, for five years, I battled for some semblance of a relationship with a man who never was and never would be, mine.
There were tearful apologies.
More booze. More tattoos. More lies.
I stuck it out. Confident it would get better.
He was conniving. Manipulative. Dangerous. With each passing year I lost more of the strong, independent woman I once was. I battled anxiety and depression, gained ten pounds and found myself in a toxic relationship with both a very destructive man and alcohol.
I stayed by his side during his separation with his wife, the whole time feeling justified. Like I won the war.
Yet, I remained firmly on the sidelines when unbeknownst to me; the monster gave his marriage another chance.
The drama and uncertainty finally broke me. I grew tired of feeling small. I distanced myself enough to clearly see how unpredictable the man I loved was. After receiving incessant voicemails with promises that things would be different, things would be better, I had enough.
I could not live inside chaos any more.
On a sunny September day five years into the insanity, I called him on my lunch break and begged him to let me go. I needed to find myself again. Months later I learned he received my phone call that September afternoon just one hour after his second child was born.
Everything had been a lie.
Even now, with all I know and all I never will, I first remember the promises we whispered in the pitch-black night that first summer. I think of how he looked at me with hunger and how inside of those moments it all felt worth it.