My husbands infidelity brought out the wonderful mother in me.
After three years together, we married a week before Christmas, 1999. As we neared our fifth wedding anniversary, we were finally coming down from the past year's major events: adopting a four-year-old boy and buying a too-big, too-expensive home in a suburb of Los Angeles. My husband and I hung stockings in a living room where the fireplace was our biggest piece of "furniture," besides the Christmas tree. Even the softest sounds were loud as they rebounded from the high ceiling to the glass doors and off the Spanish tile.
I was enjoying a quiet night in, with my son nestled in bed and my husband out with friends, when I happened upon a love letter signed with kisses.
Beneath that there were 30 more. They weren’t even hidden, just scattered throughout a pile of my husband’s work papers that I’d meant to straighten, not dissect. I knew her by the end of these missives, and I held her mostly blameless.
He was 36 years old, she was 22; he worked in management, she was an assistant; he wooed her with jewelry and clothing, she responded with provocative pictures; he promised her travel and adventure, she guaranteed rumpled sheets and room service. An old story with new names was suddenly a painful reality for me.
It dawned on me that it wasn’t his friends whom he’d been seeing more and more of recently while I’d been struggling through my early months of motherhood.
I sat down and wrote him a letter about everything I now knew.
My husband came in at some unknown point that night, long after I’d cried myself to sleep on the couch. In the morning, the letter I’d written and placed in an envelope lay on the table, still sealed, and I realized that he was in our room sleeping peacefully, unknowingly. I mechanically made breakfast and took care of my son until my husband finally shuffled into the kitchen with a cheery "good morning." He saw the letter then, as I handed him his coffee, and I gestured for him to go read it in the bedroom.
I agonized for the twenty minutes that he was in the bedroom, probably fifteen minutes longer than it had taken him to read the letter, and I was tortured wondering how we would ever work through this. But he saved me the future torments of suspicion and distrust when he came back out, dressed, with a small bag of clothes. I was shocked, and unable to open a conversation at that moment within my son’s hearing. My husband looked at me sadly, shook his head, and he walked out the door.
All of those years ended without even a conversation, with a click of the brass bolt and its echo throughout our cavernous, unadorned abode.
Then the innocent sounds of morning cartoons pierced my heart. I began to shake uncontrollably. How could I, a flailing, insecure new mother, tell this amazing little boy that after four foster homes and then finally finding his "forever family," the only dad he'd ever known had left? What should have been this little angel's most glorious Christmas ever was three terrifying weeks away.
While I struggled through the days to console my son, my husband remained "too busy" to see him. While my mid-December birthday passed painfully, and I furiously cleaned and packed to get the house back on the market, his credit card statements detailed expensive dinners, a full nightlife, and Louis Vuitton Christmas gifts that weren't for me.
And while I was feeling the deepest loneliness and abandonment of my life, my husband took his girlfriend to Las Vegas, where he'd proposed to me, on what would have been our fifth wedding anniversary.
My husband never did apologize to me. He only explained that he wasn’t in love with me anymore.
Christmas finally arrived, and my son and I somehow still managed to have a merry Christmas morning, with hot chocolate and music and lots of hugs and kisses. I now had a realtor and a haphazard plan for our immediate future. All I needed was to get through the end of the year and the nightmare I'd been living—one in which my husband also became colder and meaner with every conversation.
My son and I were invited to a neighborhood New Year's Eve party. I had hoped to cry myself into an early sleep and wake up in the new year without having had to face midnight alone, but my son was excited, and so we went.
I happily watched as he lost himself in laughter, fun and friends for several hours, and it kept my spirits up the entire evening.
I had debated the twin tortures of watching all of these wonderful couples kissing at midnight versus the emptiness at home, but my little boy was too sleepy to make it to the end of the night, so we wrapped up and left. When I put him to bed, I was grateful for every single one of his smiles I'd seen that night.
Now it was almost midnight and I was still awake. I tentatively stepped out front into the quiet neighborhood that we'd soon be leaving, and even with the coolness and the silence and the stillness, I felt oddly OK. I was standing up. I was taking care of my son.
I was doing exactly what I needed to be doing.
I heard horns and songs from a distant party at midnight, and I felt an unexpected lightness. I wasn't crying! And I realized that I didn't have one more tear for a man who was capable of doing what my husband had done to me and my little boy. I remembered my son's laughter from earlier in the evening, and I knew I wanted to hear him laugh like that every day for the rest of our lives.
I was amazed: This experience had made me love him more fiercely than I ever could have imagined. I think it was in that very moment that I finally and truly became a mom. I'd been holding my Christmas present all year long, and I'd just finally opened it.