Don’t look back on an affair

Considering that we were residents of a relatively small community, it proved surprisingly easy to avoid X. For almost a full year after I ended our affair, I did not see him in person once.

Obviously, I assiduously avoided anywhere I thought I might see him, which helped, but it was still a surprise – that we could have had such messily entwined lives but manage to amputate them so cleanly, in the end. It was a surprise but it was a welcome one. A relief.

(I saw his wife, though. I saw her all the time. I saw her often enough to stop me forgetting the sorry episode as entirely as I would have liked to – and every time I did I felt hot shame, overlaid by genuine pity. I felt grateful and glad to have escaped becoming a version of her, and embarrassed by that feeling).

By Christmas, I had moved back into my family house with my husband and my children. It was a nervous, unsettled Christmas for all of us. My husband was well aware that a year previously I had already been involved with X, and in our reconciliation we had not yet made enough new memories to help this matter any less. His parents, too, did not want to spend much time with me, for understandable and obvious reasons, but the children were baffled and hurt at the fact we would not see them on Christmas day and they were fairly hostile to me as a result.

I did my best with the stockings and the presents and the usual routine, but it was a cheap facsimile of the Christmases I’d established when the children were small, and I started to wonder whether we could ever get back to the family we had been.

New Year’s Eve, though, was lovely. We spent it with the close friends with whom we’d had the Cornwall holiday in the summer when everything was imploding, and it was cosy and comfortable and felt normal and real. I could not fucking wait to get the shitshow of the previous year behind me. At midnight, I felt happier than I had in days.

As the year went on, everything became easier. My husband’s parents slowly thawed, and though they did not welcome me with open arms, they were happy to spend time with me again.

We booked holidays, a slew of them; some with the children, some without. We renovated the house – we talked about moving initially, but decided instead just to make the place entirely unrecognisable from the house that I had lived in when I had been lying and cheating on everyone in it.

I settled into my new working hours. I found a new running group to replace the one that X had been involved with.

I took up yoga, and suddenly the calm meditation at the end made sense to me in a way that it never had before. Stretched and warm on the mat, listening to the hypnotic rhythms of the instructor’s relaxation mantras, I began to believe that I could forgive myself.

And I began to read the sort of writing I had never read before: short stories, longform essay journalism. I listened to podcasts on topics that I had never explored. I wanted to change my experience of the world. I wanted to make sense of it and of myself.

When I did see X again, it was 14 months since he had sent that last, vicious email to me. It was the following Christmas, my life was in a completely different place, and when I collided with him in a busy bar it was entirely surreal.

Our eyes met and it felt so very strange. It was like years had passed and also no time at all. We were both drunk, but he was drunker. He said “Do we need to have a conversation?” I said to him “I just want to know why you did it. Why you lied to me, why you let me go through everything I went through. I’m calm now, and it doesn’t matter, but that is what I’d love to know.”

He said “Look. Nothing has changed for me. I still love you. I love you. Is that what you want me to say?”

I said “No. It is not what I want you to say. I told you what I want you to tell me. I want you to explain why you spent all that time lying to me and yet you still tried to make me think it was all my fault. I want to know why you’d let me live through that. It just feels like inhuman behaviour and I want to understand it.”

He said “I don’t know what to tell you. I just love you.”

There was no point to any of it. There never had been.

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