Listen. I may not be much, but I’m all I’ve got. Maybe you need a magnifying glass to find my face in my high school graduation photo. Maybe I haven’t got any family or friends. Yes, yes, I know all that. But, strange as it might seem, I’m not entirely dissatisfied with life… I feel pretty much at home with what I am. I don’t want to go anywhere. I don’t want any unicorns behind fences.
I woke to Her text as I do every morning now, expressions of love and gaiety that warm my heart. Despite that, the room was cold, the bare cinder block walls failed to hold much heat in during the long night. When the sun went down the fog would roll in from the ocean and would stay there until it burned off around mid day. The room was perpetually cool, which is probably better than the alternative given the limited ventilation. The small slatted window no longer opened since the knobs had broken, and provided almost no light. My wife had poked her head in before going off to work that morning, set the baby monitor on the shelf by the door (which was really just exposed wood framing that had been painted). I could always feel her eyes searching the room to see if I was alone. She’d tried a few times when she wasn’t working to run down and catch me off guard to see if she could catch me in the act, but I had been honest with her, I hadn’t had any girls over, to spend the night or otherwise so far, and for her sake, I didn’t plan to as long as I shared a roof with her. She’d suffered enough with my infidelity thus far, and I certainly didn’t want to add insult to injury.
I got up and switched the light on. My little makeshift bachelor pad had come together quickly enough. I’d gotten my old beat up dresser out of the garage that I’d had since I was 6 years old, which my wife had kindly repainted and I’d put on some shiny new hardware, that is, before we decided we wanted nice new matching dressers for the bedroom upstairs, now her bedroom. Shirts, pants, and suits hung in the improvised closet with my shoe rack down below. Set up a little desk and chair, and was trying to cobble together an old computer from spare parts in the garage, it wasn’t going well, bad graphics adapter causing video corruption and glitches and occasional crashes and would need to be replaced when I had a chance, but it was reasonably serviceable now that I had the OS up and running.
One of the dogs had snuck in that morning when my wife cracked the door. She was a loyal one, and I knew she missed me now that I was living downstairs, the other dog often didn’t want to brave the cold of my room, so he’d stay warm upstairs. But, she’d snuggle up by my feet on the bed, which was no more than a box springs and mattress on the floor, and as soon as I’d get up she’d find a warm spot beneath the blankets where I had been laying. My wife had made me take all the blankets and sheets downstairs that had been on the bed when I slept with Anne and Sierra. She had wanted to burn them, but acknowledged that we wouldn’t have much to put on the bed downstairs if she did.
I put on my slippers and sauntered off to the shower across the cold tile of the living room/kitchenette downstairs. A shower, shave, and comb and I was a new man, instead of the neanderthal that had looked in the mirror minutes earlier. Dressed for work, and had time for some cereal as the baby stirred on the monitor. My wife insists that I keep all of my food and dishes confined to the downstairs kitchenette, really that I keep myself downstairs as much as possible so she doesn’t have to look at me. I can understand, she says just seeing me, the man that destroyed her life, makes her want to vomit. She couldn’t bear to be near me, and I can understand that. We decided some space was needed for both of us, so we could decide how to move forward, to reconcile or to divorce. I was surprised with how quickly we’d managed to separate our lives, within less than a week’s time. We’d had to tell our renter, Kenny, and his girlfriend since she is a friend as well, part of the church youth group to boot (all of them haven’t found out about the depths of my betrayal yet). My wife refuses to let me tell anyone simply that ‘I had an affair’, it has to be ‘I had five affairs’. She said it was important they had an idea of the level of my depravity. I’ve acquiesced to this description that I now wear like a brand, like the mark of Cain. Kenny was really nice about all of it, I feel terrible for displacing him, another life altered on my account. The pastor offered his spare bedroom free of charge for Kenny, so he moved out almost right away and I moved into his old room, which quickly reaffirmed in my mind the pittance we had been charging him to stay there, but I am content with it.
As I finished my cereal and rinsed my dishes, the baby began cooing and bouncing in his crib upstairs. I opened the door to the stairs and walked up. The upstairs is certainly far nicer than the downstairs. My wife and I had worked tirelessly to make it so, it is representative of the life we built together. The colors we chose to paint the walls, the furniture pieces and the layout. Above the fireplace hung a painting I’d purchased from one of her favorite artists and given it to her as a gift for Christmas. There were pictures of the baby and family and friends on the walls in the hallway, except for a few blank spaces where my wife had removed any frame that contained a photo of me. The door to the bathroom was ajar, the shower was spotless, my wife had scrubbed it top to bottom with bleach when she found out that I’d been in it together with Sierra. We’d spent the first two days and nights since my confession pouring over every detail of my affairs. She wanted to know everything: when, where, everything about every girl, her age, job, height, weight, race, cup size, every kiss, every sex act we performed together, even demanding I tell her how it felt and how they compared to her, and every nonsexual thing we did, everything I talked about and shared with them, the minute details of every relationship nothing omitted. I was flabbergasted by some of the details she asked about, but I had promised her transparency, so I shared, as difficult as it was. Each detail would bring fresh outrage from my wife, it seemed to me this had to be unhealthy, like she was seeking to be immersed in the pain it would bring her. Unsurprisingly, she was appalled that I’d had girls over, and in our bed, and at crazy hours and spent the night with Sierra twice. But, for some reason, that I’d been with a girl in our shower was even more grievous than all that. Somehow, she managed to perceive that it was more than sex for me with Sierra, and soon she was mining the details of our daily escapades. She referred to Sierra as my ‘college skank’ and to Her as my ‘mistress’, and to the others as just ‘sluts’, she eventually forbade me to use their names when answering her questions, I had to just refer to them as girl number so-and-so. All these descriptions had lead my wife to believe that I was a demented sex addict and needed serious help. It became more awkward for her to share these details with our friends and family, much as I tried to dissuade her. Soon just about everyone was in agreement that I had a serious problem as a sex fiend. My wife was hurting, she was disgusted, she had been utterly violated by my behavior, and she naturally felt I’d put all of these women above her, and in some ways she may have been right, and I felt terrible for that. Above all, she seemed to be hurt the most by my rejection of her. That she, as a caring mother and hard-working life partner, wasn’t enough for me: I had chosen these women, I had chosen sexual and romantic fulfillment above what she offered me. I had thought I could have both, but I was wrong. It was heartbreaking to watch her walk about, her face blank or twisted in misery. She didn’t deserve any of this. But, what could be done? Reconciling or divorcing were both fraught with pitfalls, there was no easy solution.
I opened the door to the nursery, and the baby stood in his crib clapping happily when he saw me. Then, of course, in the middle of it all, is our son who we both love dearly.
“Good morning, buddy,” I said cheerfully as I picked him up.