“Have you ever cheated on me?” How were these words coming out of my mouth? I was married to a “good Catholic boy,” after all. The revelation that the “good Catholic boy” designation was self–professed came to light as I stood in the garage the day after Christmas watching my illusions that he was actually “a good man underneath it all” dissipate into a smoky haze. New just-played-with toys were scattered all over the house, wrapping paper was overflowing the trash cans, and the boys were still riding high from candy-filled stockings and the excitement of Santa’s visit.
I stood behind the kitchen door in the garage watching my husband sobbing. He said his friends had advised him not to tell me anything, but he had decided to be honest and answer any question I wanted to ask.
“Hang on,” I said.
The boys were two, four and six years old. I couldn’t leave them unattended for more than a few minutes. I opened the door to peer inside. Through the kitchen and into the living room, I saw the Christmas tree lights shimmering, the stockings flung on the floor, toys and candy strewn about. The smell of the Christmas tree hit me as I scanned the kitchen still covered with Christmas morning donuts and cookies. The boys were quietly playing. The middle one was watching a Christmas movie, the youngest was riding his new tractor, and the oldest was playing his new video game.
I turned back into the darkness of the garage and closed the door. I looked around to see our life in the shadows. Christmas boxes were awaiting pick-up. Bikes, rakes, and tools were haphazardly arranged. Boxes of outgrown clothes were awaiting the next boy’s growth spurt.
“Have you ever cheated on me?”
I don’t know why I asked this question. We had many problems, but nothing I believed was insurmountable. He was a good person underneath it all. He was a good person underneath his white lies, misrepresentations and failure do the things he said he would do that apparently whittled away at my ability to trust him and prompted my question.
“Um, well, not really,” he said.
Not really? This was not a definitive answer to my question. This question should have a definitive answer, and at that moment, I knew. His penchant for rationalizing bored full-force into me, and I felt invisible to myself. Everything I knew to be true was a lie. As I listened to an endless description of what specific acts he believed constituted cheating, I felt as though I had left my body and was watching this scene from above myself.
“Hang on.” I had to come back to myself and check on the kids.
I opened the door again to check on the boys. They were getting a bit restless, running around the living room, flinging toys up in the air as they giggled and shrieked. Frosty the Snowman was blaring from the TV.
My mind replayed the last week as I watched them. The Christmas Eve service at church, the Sunday School Christmas party, making cookies with my parents, all of it was so normal. I told them to finish the movie, and I would give them a bath.
When I turned back to the dimly lit garage, I began to ask questions with surreal calm. I had to chip away at his resistance to the truth despite him offering to answer any question. He began to sob harder and harder as he related a tale of infidelity spanning five years of our ten-year marriage.
“I don’t know,” he said.
“What do you mean you don’t know?” I could not fathom his answer as I once again had left my body, floating above and watching this happen to me.
“I don’t know who they are.”
“Too many to count.”
At that moment, my two-year-old came bounding out of the house, all grins and wanting to play. The bright light of the kitchen fell on my husband’s tear-streaked face. I stepped to block my son from seeing him, scooped him up and carried him back inside. I asked my 6 year-old to play with him for a few minutes before their bath and I would be right back.
“I don’t have any more questions,” I said. I turned back into the house filled with lights, music and the sweet faces of innocent, giggling boys. I shut the garage door to the man I never really knew. And I was free.