I’d just gotten home from work and was preparing dinner for my kids. I’d picked them up from school and stopped at the grocery store. Chicken, yep, we were having chicken for dinner that night, I’d decided. As I fixed dinner, my phone rang. Little did I know that the caller on the other end was about to give me some information that would start a chain of events that ultimately led to the demise of my marriage.
Her: “Hello, is this Ava?” the woman asked.
Me: “Yes, who is this?” I asked
Her: “You don’t know me, but my name is ****** and I just want you to know that I’ve just had your husband’s baby. She’s a month old and I thought you should know about it.”
Needless to say that the chicken didn’t get cooked that night. I think I ordered pizza for the kids and called my husband at work. I told him about the phone call. I had never known him to get home from work as quickly as he did that day. We’d been married for 6 years and life as I’d known it changed forever. As it turned out, the child was his, although he initially denied it. A paternity test proved otherwise. To say that it was devastating to me is an understatement. I was totally unprepared and caught off guard. I didn’t leave and neither did he. After a lot of talking, crying, apologizing and more talking, we stayed together for another ten years! I realize now that the fear of being a single mother again and living on just my salary scared me more than the fact that my husband had cheated on me AND that a child was born from that betrayal.
Besides the blaringly painful fact that my husband had been unfaithful to me, he’d fathered a child with a woman that he barely knew and was now ordered to pay child support, which meant that our combined income was about to get a big bite taken out of it. By the way, she was married, too. I foolishly thought that the child support would not affect me; Hey, it was his problem, not mine, right? WRONG! It affected every aspect of our marriage. While that child support money came out every month for years, I was festering inside. I didn’t recognize it, but I was angry and disillusioned, and very tired. As the years passed since that phone call, I’d convinced myself and told him that I’d forgiven him, but I know now that I never really did. Every opportunity that I got, I reminded him of his betrayal. We could be arguing about something as silly as the direction of the wind and I’d say something like, “Well what direction was the wind blowing when you and ****** were together?”
I’m laughing right now because it’s funny to me, but it wasn’t at the time. I realize that I was filled with anger, bitterness and un-forgiveness. How could any relationship survive with all of that going on inside? Now don’t get me wrong, I had every right to feel all of those things, and more! The problem was that I never really acknowledged those feelings. A major trust had been broken in my marriage and the resulting impact manifested itself with an internal rage. I smiled on the outside and went on with my life and the business of raising my children. I played the loving and forgiving wife to the world, but inside I was silently screaming. I felt trapped and numb for the next 10 years and I didn’t even know it. We’d had many arguments in those years, and most would include a shot from me about his betrayal and all the money that “we” were paying to a child that he fathered in an adulterous relationship.
He and I even broke up for about 6 months during those years, but we reconciled. He told me one day that he was leaving, and he did. Once again, I was scared. My kids were now a little older, but despite the loss of income from the child support, we were still managing on two salaries. Once again, fear kicked in and, despite the anger I felt inside, I wanted us to remain together, so we reconciled…and the years went by. Fast forward another 6 years – my oldest daughter was now a young adult and my youngest was almost a senior in high school. I reflect back now and saw the signs of it coming, but I didn’t acknowledge them. I felt it and, deep inside, I knew a major change was on the horizon and I braced myself. One day in September of 2006, my husband and I had a conversation that went like this:
Him: I’m leaving you.
Me: What, again?
Him: Yes, I’m going for good this time.
Me: Ok, let me help you pack
Him: I can’t leave right now because I have no place to go, but I’m sleeping on the couch for a while.”
Me: Ok, you get to the end of the month, which is only about 2 weeks. Then after that, you’re out of here.”
He slept on that couch for two weeks. I even took a trip to New York to visit family and took in a Broadway play while I was there. When I got back, I started buying newspapers and reading through the classified sections for apartments. I would put big red circles around the places that I thought he could afford and gave them to him. I was more than ready for him to get out and I wanted to move him along. No, this time fear and the need to “keep my family together” did not show up. Instead, I was relieved beyond words and suddenly I realized that the internal pervasive scream inside had stopped. I had stopped loving my husband and lost respect for him long before he decided to leave again.
He left at the end of the month and I redecorated my entire bedroom. I put my stuff everywhere and spread my clothes out in the large walk-in closet that we once shared. I remember wondering where in the world had his clothes been and how had we shared this space for so long! A few months later, Christmas came and my kids and I put up our tree, but this time we made the lights blink off and on. In all of the years that I was married, my husband hated blinking lights on the tree and always opted to keep the lights steady. Not this year! That tree was blinking and flashing all day long and we loved it! After the new year, I filed for divorce and filled out the divorce papers myself (no money for an attorney, but I didn’t need one). Six months later, I had a court date to appear for my final divorce hearing. It was a Thursday and I’d been home sick from work that entire week with a bad cold. I was feeling somewhat better that day, but I still should have been in the bed. But that morning, I woke up, showered, dressed and drove myself to the courthouse. I had no idea if my soon-to-be ex was going to appear, but I didn’t care. Freedom was a signature away and I was going to be there!
I showed up, fighting a cold, but coherent and ready. The judge asked if I was sure I wanted this divorce and I emphatically answered “YES!” With that, he signed my divorce decree and he wished me well. I thanked him, left the court house, returned home and got back in the bed. I woke up later that day and my cold seemed to have gone away, along with the burden of being tied to someone who I no longer loved or respected. I was free and I never looked back!
In the almost 7 years since then, I have found myself not only surviving, but I have thrived. There’s a big difference! Life isn’t perfect, nor has it been easy, but I have discovered how strong, resilient and powerful I am. If it had not been for God’s mercy and love in my life, I could never have gotten through this time. God saved me and taught me some lessons along the way, one of which is that I’m stronger than I thought I was and that while my married life had ended after many years of marriage, a new and beautiful life was emerging for me. A life filled with challenges that have strengthened and empowered me. A life filled with a renewal of my long suppressed talents and gifts and a life filled with the glorious emergence of a woman who is worthy, dynamic, funny, cool and who is a really happy human being, living life on my own terms and loving it.
The kids are grown up now and I’m not searching for my purpose; I’ve found it and I’m doing it – writing. I don’t have any “tips” for getting through that kind of betrayal. All I can say is that you have to know that you WILL get through it and you will find your way. You will either forgive, truly forgive, and go on together, or you won’t. Maybe other women would have been able to truly forgive, but for me, it was just too much. And I’m okay with that because we each have our own capacity for what we can endure and what we can’t. I’m not angry about anything anymore and haven’t been for a long time. I was able to finally forgive my ex and I have happily moved on and built a new and wonderful life for myself. I can talk and write about that time in my life with no tears, no bitterness and no regrets. I’m happier now than I’ve ever been in my life and, despite the ups and downs that I’ve faced simply because I’m alive and living, I have peace in my life. That’s not just surviving, that’s thriving!
Photos: Courtesy of Stock Photos