I wasn't a violent person, but her betrayal burned me up.
My business in Chicago had wrapped up early so I decided to be impulsive and catch an earlier flight home to surprise her. Even though things had been challenging between us lately, I was excited to see her. Sometimes absence does make the heart grow fonder.
After arriving back in town, I picked up some flowers on the way. Gerbera daisies: her favorite, accompanied by a love note. A nice touch, I thought. There's nothing better than seeing your significant other's face light up when receiving flowers.
It was early evening as I walked through the door, completely oblivious to what was to come. I should've picked up on the signs all around me as I strode into the house. I spotted a coat hanging near the front door. It wasn't mine; it wasn't hers. There were two empty wine glasses and a bottle sitting on the coffee table beside the sofa.
That's when it hit me. Well, sort of. Denial has a power over you that makes you dismiss things that are directly confronting you. I didn't want to jump to conclusions; after all, she could've had a girlfriend over.
I heard muffled sounds, perhaps laughter, coming from behind the master bedroom door. I stopped dead in my tracks. The synapses in my head were firing at light speed. I couldn't quite verbalize my thoughts. I stared at the closed bedroom door. Seemingly in slow motion, I strode to the door and entered. It felt like it took forever to make my way into the room.
Startled from their merger atop the grey Egyptian cotton sheets of our king size bed, they reacted to my arrival. It took a split-second for my presence in the room to sink in.
He desperately scrambled for his clothes at the foot of the bed, while she covered herself with the sheets. The expression on her face was evidence of myriad emotions flashing through her mind.
I gazed down at her left hand firmly clutching the sheets. The sparkle of her one-carat diamond ring was undeniable. I was blinded by its brilliance amidst the chaos and turmoil that my fragile psyche was enduring.
She didn't know how to react. She glanced from my despondent expression to the daisies in my right hand. All of a sudden I felt numb, immobile. My heart was racing as I dropped the flowers and the note on the bedroom floor. It was an involuntary reaction.
I didn't look down at the flowers as they lay sprawled upon the beige carpet, instead focusing my glare at his hasty, desperate exit from the room. What a coward, I thought. He didn't even have the decency to face me, throwing his clothes on as he bolted for the door. She and I remained, eye-to-eye, no words spoken.
I searched for answers as I tried to process my disbelief. What the hell was going on? That refrain kept repeating over and over in my head on a non-stop looping reel. My heart was pounding harder and harder, as if it was going to burst through my chest.
"What are you doing home?" she said, cutting through the tension and deafening silence.
It confounded me. I was staggered by her words. Here we were at the end of our relationship, and all she could do was blame me for her cheating. That's what it felt like anyway. She seemed cold, distant.
I didn't answer; I couldn't answer. My mind was a collection of colliding emotions and shattered thoughts. Who is this woman? This isn't the woman I know. This is a complete stranger. I quickly surmised that the woman I knew and had built a life with had died while I was away. She had perished shortly after I said goodbye on Sunday morning.
I took a deep breath, struggling to make sense of it all. "What am I doing home?" echoed in my head. I felt a sudden pain in my chest, like I had been stabbed in the heart.
"Why?" I managed.
"Is it really a surprise?" she asked.
"F*ck yes, it's a surprise!" was what I wanted to say.
Instead, I got angry. I stifled my impulse. I wasn't a violent person, but her betrayal burned me up.
"Give me that ring back," I demanded.
"What? No," she cried.
It was a beautiful ring. I knew she wouldn't want to part with it. She covered it protectively with her right hand, and buried it deeply within the sheets and comforter of the bed.
"Give it to me," I persisted.
"No. Don't," she replied.
I descended on her, far more politely and gently than I thought that I would. After all, I was raging mad at her. My mind became clouded, confused with the thoughts of wanting to f*ck her. Can you believe that? At that moment — at that very instant — I wanted her, sexually. My ego needed to possess her. I fought back this misguided desire.
"Please don't take it," she begged.
Her words brought me back to the task at hand. I reached into the sheets and found her left hand. She acquiesced as I carefully, delicately extracted the ring from her finger. We were now disengaged.
I stood in front of her holding the ring. Tears streamed down my face. She mirrored my emotions. My mind flashed back to the moment that I got down on one knee. We had journeyed to our favorite spot at the shore. The sunlight reflected off of the stone as I opened the case and asked her to marry me. I can remember her smile right before she replied, "Yes!"
Her radiant and jubilant image faded from my thoughts. I dismissed it from my mind; it was too painful to linger in that realm. The image dissolved, fading to the pain and sorrow that now inhabited her face.
I slipped the ring into my pocket, its brilliance gone from sight. She looked at me like I had stolen something dear to her. Her feelings no longer mattered to me. She slipped out of bed into her robe that was sitting on a nearby chair.
I started for the door.
"I love you," she said.
My exit halted. I wanted to keep moving. I wanted to get away, far away, as far away as I could. I began my exit once again.
"Can we talk?" she asked.
"No," I said, shaking my head.
"I'm sorry," she said, arriving behind me and wrapping her arms around me in a warm embrace.
I could feel her body pressed against mine. It was familiar. I tried, struggled not to feel it.
"Please stay," she implored.
I didn't turn to face her. I knew it would lead to my downfall, to my relapse into what was comfortable. It would be a very big mistake. What I discovered that night was a blaring sign that shouldn't be ignored.
"No, I can't," I said.
I broke free from her clutch. I managed to put one foot in front of another. I kept walking out of the room and out of her life. I walked with purpose into the darkness. I was disconsolate, crestfallen.
My life was in pieces. They were scattered here and there. There was no manual or instructions for restoration.
In the ensuing days, weeks and months, I stumbled through life. I was off-kilter, aimless. My days were filled with dark clouds and gloomy nights.
Downsizing became part of my equation. I moved from a 3,000 square foot house with a two-car garage into a 1,000 square foot apartment. My appetite suffered. My enthusiasm for life had been vanquished. Happiness was an unknown emotion.
A short time later I found myself again. I summoned my courage. Slowly, I pieced the patchwork of my fractured soul back together. I forced myself to get back out there into the world. Social interaction was challenging. I didn't know how to pursue someone. I needed a jumpstart. A friend suggested online dating.
It struck me that I was no longer prohibited from looking at or pursuing woman. The wall that had been erected during my engagement had been removed. I was single again.
Although I had been dumped, kicked to the curb and discarded like refuse onto the relationship trash heap, I realized that this should be a moment to embrace. My life had new limitless possibilities.
Cassius Shuman is the author of "The Seduction of Mallory McKenzie" and "The Dead Boy's Legacy." He worked for many years in the film business in Hollywood and now works as a news reporter in Rhode Island. You can visit his website at: www.cassiusshuman.com