What do you do when you have become what you loathe most, doing things you never would have imagined yourself doing? You spend years looking down at such behaviour, thinking that you would never stoop to such a level, that you’d never fail your high moral standards, that you’d never reach the depths of depravity that would allow such wanton acts. You could never do such a thing because of the strength of your beliefs. Not you. Never you.
Oh, the pain and the irony. How those I’d judged so harshly would laugh if they knew of my predicament. Now that I can be counted among their ranks, I realise that what they – we – did is so much more than bad judgement related to low moral standards. These things can creep up on you, building slowly, one lie at a time, until we are trapped in a place so foreign it leaves us bewildered, especially without the crutch of one’s lofty moral standards to lean on. Recovering addicts must feel something akin to this.
Hi. My name is Christina, and I have become the other woman.
I did something I swore I’d never do, something the woman formerly my best friend did to me. To know I have caused another woman the same pain caused to me is s horrible it makes me want to slit my wrists. I still remember, with astounding clarity, those few hours between finding out about Cassie and John and realising the immenseness of my own grief.
Until that incident, we were blissfully unaware of the real hardships of life, thinking that cooking, cleaning and picking up after ourselves were the worse hardships we would have to endure during college. All three of us have been spoiled since early childhood, living a comfortable life with all the necessary amenities. Cassie and I had been friends since elementary school; John and I had been dating since high school. College had further strengthened our bond; something about doing laundry together at the Laundromat several times a session at 3AM had done the trick. We were talking marriage – a topic that, surprisingly enough, he had come up with, not I. It felt like life was perfect, going where I had wanted it to go without a single hitch. I was top of my class, graduating in a year summa cum laude, had a great job already lined up for me and was going to get married within a year of graduation. What more could a girl ask for?
Every day I would send thanks up to the forces which had dealt me such a wonderful hand of cards, until that morning. I woke up earlier than usual; a stomach bug had kept me visiting the bathroom all night. I had stopped for a glad of water and caught a familiar whiff of cologne emanating from Cassie’s room. I didn’t think much of it – many men wore that cologne – but then I saw the shoes. I wondered for a second if John had come to check up on me and had ended in the wrong room. Then I ruefully shook my head. I prided myself for not being one of those paranoid girlfriends who checked on their boyfriends all the time, and I had no intention of starting. The shoes were pretty common, slip on leather sandals a lot of guys on campus had. With just cause: they were cheap, sturdy and fashionable. I had been the one to get John a pair, and there were at least five other people in the check-out line purchasing a pair on that very day.
I rolled my eyes at my own stupidity and was heading back to my room when I happened to glance at Cassie’s door. It was one of those lazy glances, done more out of habit than anything else. The door was ajar, framing two bodies wrapped around each other in an unmistakable position, slumbering peacefully, unaware of a figure looming at the door.
Such a cliché, I know, but my mind went blank. Utter silence of thought for a few moments – seconds? minutes? – before a loud, internal scream shattered it. It couldn’t be John! He would never do such a thing! This couldn’t happen to me! It had to be his look alike or a long lost twin. Either of those possibilities seemed more plausible than John – my John, my thoughtful, loving, patient John – in that position.
I should have just marched straight back to my room. But I couldn’t. However much I wished it, however much I denied it, however much I didn’t want to admit it, the chances of Cassie being with a look-alike or a long-long twin were next to non-existent. I walked in, one leaden step at a time, heart pounding, still hoping, and stood in disbelief beside the bed, looking down at Cassie and… And John. It was him. Naked. In bed. With another woman.
My breathing grew more laboured, and I started wheezing. My childhood asthma, which had been receding in the last five years, returned full force, and the sound of me forcing air in and out of my tightening lungs woke them both up. To this day I don’t know exactly what happened; somehow I ended up in my room, huddled in bed, clutching an old asthma medication dispenser and wondering at how everything can go so wrong in so short a time.
I threw myself into achieving perfection. I had perfect marks, perfect looks, perfect behaviour; I had to be such a woman that John could feel nothing but regret at having lost me, and Cassie would feel nothing but intimidation at the mere mention of my name. And it worked. I kicked her out of my life the very next day, and nothing she said or did convinced me to do anything more than serve her papers for the money she owed me. It seemed harsh until one realised that this wasn’t the first time she had done something of the sort to me, but it was certainly the last time. My parents were relieved I was finally getting rid of her; throughout the years they had witnessed Cassie undermining me at every opportunity she got without me saying a word. Truth is I felt sorry for her; Cassie’s need to undermine me was a reflection of her insecurities.
John was something else. He was the first man I had loved, and I had done so with every fibre of my being. I could understand, rationally, how he could make such a mistake. I could accept, rationally, that these things could happen. I could admit that for a man like John, with his usual integrity and loyalty, that this was probably a one time deal that had traumatised him so much, possibly even more than me, he would never even think of doing it again.
But something was missing. The spark at the mere mention of his name; the butterflies I used to get, even after 6 years of dating, were still; dates had become a chore and seeing him, an obligation than a pleasure. I still loved him. I couldn’t fall out of love with him just like that, and I hated myself for it. John has done everything he could to get my forgiveness, and I knew, rationally, that it was more than enough to prove to anyone that he was sincere. Two years since that day and I have yet to make up my mind. In another demonstration of his loyalty, John, to whom I’ve told about my confusion and the fact that I didn’t know when, if ever, we could get back together, has told me time and time again that he would wait for me. He loved me, and he’d never give up on getting his second chance. He deserves it, that I know; but I just can’t give it to him. Not yet.
Although I would never admit it to him, the other thing that bothered me was that John had ‘been’ with other girls. For one, there had been Cassie; on the other hand, he had dated other girls before me. Nothing serious, obviously, but the fact that he had met other girls interesting enough to date or to sleep with made me feel like I was a bit of an expendable commodity. As if, were things not to work out, it was only a matter of time before John replaced me. But I didn’t know if I would be able to replace him; no other man had ever interested me, before or during our relationship.
That it until I ran into him, an old friend high school who had been a bit of a nerd but a great friend throughout elementary school. I had basked in his light in those years, seeing much more in him than anyone else ever had. The old chemistry was still there, but with it came something new, something exciting, something that, after two years of feeling absolutely nothing but numbness, made me feel alive again. It was addicting, and I soon got swept into the maelstrom.
I still don’t know how it got to this point of me becoming the other women. There were no signs, no clues, nothing that could have warned me of the storm bearing on me and yet I can’t seem to be able to stop thinking that there was something that I’d missed, something that would have kept me out of this situation.
A thorough analysis of the situation had yielded nothing in lieu of clues to that effect. Dex hadn’t worn a ring and hadn’t mentioned being in a relationship – or not being in one. On our third “meeting” – I hadn’t been able to refer to them as dates until I was certain he was single – I summoned the courage to ask him.
“Would I be on a date if I weren’t?” he grinned at me, without the slightest hesitation.
I chalked it up to paranoia – in retrospect, I probably realised, deep down, that something was off – but I had to ask him a couple of times. And each and every time that I mentioned something about him being single or not, he would give me vague assurances, no clear-cut no. “Would a committed man stay out this late?” he’d told me when I asked him a second time about seeing anyone else. “I can party because I’m young, single and good-looking,” he announced a couple of times with a cheeky grin. It was all the more ironic that Dex didn’t party that much – he preferred having a bunch of friends over than go to a restaurant or club. Never once did he give me a clear-cut no, and always managed to come up with something cute (that, at the time, I found adorable).
It also didn’t help that we were blinded with our attraction to one another. We never could spend more than a couple of hours without one making contact with the other – phone, email, text message or in person. I tried to keep it in check, to maintain some control over the situation – after all, I didn’t want to seem so dependant – but he called me out on it.
“Why are you holding back, Christina?” he asked me one night.
“I’m not holding back,” I answered without hesitation. “Can’t a girl have a night in?” I added with a giggle. I wasn’t ready for this conversation.
But he was. “A girl can’t do that when a guy is begging her to spend it with him.”
My heart melted. The man certainly knew how to talk sweet. “Dex…”
“I know, I know,” he sighed. “You need your time alone, I can respect that. You still have things you need to sort out in your personal life. But you can’t make me like the fact that you are holding out.”
“What do you mean, holding out? You know everything about me. We spend almost all our free time together. I talk to you more than I talk to anyone else. Explain to me how exactly I’d be holding back.”
Dex hesitated. It didn’t happen often and reflected deep inner turmoil. “I want to be with you, in every sense of the word. You make me feel things no one has ever made me feel before. I also have opened up to you in ways I never have with anyone else, and it scares me that you still need time and space to think about it.”
How well he knew me. I decided against feigning innocence. “It’s going too fast.”
“I know. And yet it’s not fast enough for me.”
“I’m not sure about the sustainability of this relationship.”
He chuckled. “The big words are coming out, aren’t they.”
I didn’t say anything. I couldn’t. Dex was right; something was holding me back, and until I could identify it, I wasn’t going forward with this relationship. It didn’t have to do with John; I was still in love with him, I still loved him, but something was missing in our relationship. As for Dex, I also loved him, and although our relationship had what Johns’ lacked, it didn’t feel as right. It was all very confusing.
He sighed. “To be honest, I’m not sure about the sustainability of this relationship either,” he answered. “But I’m willing to give it a try.”
An image of John’s beautiful, sad eyes popped into my head. “I’ve been burned pretty badly,” I said, pushing the image of John and the related guilt away.
“And I don’t want you to be hurt ever again.”
“Let me come pick you up,” he asked.
I was a little shocked by the blatant vulnerability permeating his voice. It almost undid me, but I managed to stand firm. “I have to go Dex. I need to think about all this.”
“As long as you’re thinking about me,” he said, ever so softly, “I guess I can handle it.” He hung up before the thrill had finished travelling up and down my spine.
Now that I think back on it, I can easily identify a scattering of clues that should have tickled my curiosity and led me on the path to the truth. Maybe, somehow, I always knew things with Dex weren’t going to last and I’d unconsciously ignored details that seem so blatantly obvious now as to make me look like a fool. Maybe I had unconsciously decided to be happy for the little time I had with him and ignore the rest until it decided to come pounding on the door.
The biggest clue was the fact that we always got together at my place. Furthermore, we arrived together. To give myself some credit – I’m not a complete fool, after all – it always worked out for the best that way. After all, my place was right between his workplace and mine, while his house was far out in the suburbs. It was only logical and practical that we always met there. But still, I should have known.
The other clue was that Dex, a social person by nature, never wanted to invite anyone over nor go out at all. It did make sense at the time though, because he had huge portfolios to close at work. Dex hasn’t felt like going our for a little while, exhausted by his frequent business trips and late night conference calls, and appreciated the fact that I was so easygoing about it.
“I’ll make it up to you, I promise,” he kept telling me.
Not that he wasn’t already trying. He cooked, got me flowers, fixed my leaking faucet, helped me with a couple of tough cases, brought us take-out when neither felt like cooking, listened to me vent and, most importantly, expected nothing in return.
“I don’t deserve you,” he’d often say with a sigh.
How I wish I had know why he felt that way.
I had know for most of our short relationship – the entire thing, from beginning to end, lasted a mere three months – that something was on Dex’ mind, something big that could affect us. I called him out on it early on.
“Listen, Dex. I just wanted you to know that I kind of figured out that there’s something big on your mind that concerns me,” I told him one evening about a month into our relationship. “And I wanted you to know that I won’t push you to tell me, but I’d appreciate a head’s up as soon as you can handle it.”
He peered at me with a curious yet intense look on his face, as if searching the depths of my mind. “What do you mean?”
I smiled. Although I wanted to make a point, I didn’t want to dampen our moods. “Just let me know if you have a terminal illness or your boss is planning to transfer you to China.”
I was surprised that didn’t make him smile. Instead, he kept his eyes on me for awhile longer, then sighed. “You are too perceptive,” he said, gathering me to his side and dropping a kiss in my hair. I love it when he does that.
A few moments later, I pushed away again to look up at him, my heart in my throat. “You aren’t dying, are you?”
He laughed that deep, energetic and full laugh I always loved. “No, I’m not dying.”
“So China it is,” I said, settling back in the crook of his arm. “China I can handle. It closer to hell, where someone as terrible as you is going.”
He again surprised me with a huge sigh, but as the commercial break was coming to an end I couldn’t question him.
I wish I hadn’t left it at that. I wish I had taken the time during the next commercial break to push the question further. It would have helped to know who she was before she had to tell me herself. It took both of us by surprise – me, learning who she was, and her, realising I didn’t know a thing about her – but oddly enough, it created a bond between us, strengthened by the acuteness of my guilt, the depth of my shame, the gallons of tears and the sincerity of my apologies.
I came home that evening earlier than usual. A bad fall had twisted my ankle and I had taken work home. Better be home in my socks, comfortable and efficient rather that at the office in shoes, in pain and unproductive. I was wobbling a little unsteadily up the stairs to my unit when I spotted her, sitting on the stairs, shoulders hunched and a forlorn look on her face. Right then I knew my life was going to change forever. I just didn’t realise how, and by how much.
I was about to fall when I heard her ask if I needed help.
I giggled, a little embarrassed. “You’ll be my hero if you do.”
She grabbed a couple of the bags. “You could have made two trips, you know,” she said with a smile.
I rolled my eyes. “Two trips on a twisted ankle? I don’t think so,” I said, fiddling with the keys that were hooked on my thumb.
I noticed she had her foot on the first step of the next flight. I pointed to my door. “Right here.”
The most remarkable transformation occurred on her face, going from soft and luminous to dark and hard in a matter of a nanosecond. “How… interesting.”
I must have looked ridiculous, standing there with an arm half raised and my mouth in an ‘o’, but my mind was sluggish from the pain medication. I couldn’t but stare at her, trying to figure it out.
A look of understanding and a ghost of her smile touched her lips. “You have no idea, do you?”
Whatever she was here for, it wasn’t going to be good. I struggled to get air into my lungs – that dratted childhood asthma wasn’t never too far away. “Who… who are you?” I managed to croak.
She hesitated, something akin to regret flashing through her eyes before they hardened again. “I’m Elena. Dex’ wife.”
My arms dropped and my knees wobbled dangerously as the carefully assembled files cascaded to the floor. The image of John and Cassie, seared in my brain but successfully buried for so long, swamped my line of vision – but this time, the pain I felt was worse, much, much worse.
I probably would have fallen on my face and broken my nose had Elena not held me. How could she be so gentle with me? How could she resist pushing me down the stairs? I was a vile, dirty woman. I had sunk lower than I ever had thought possible. I had become what Cassie had been. All the accusations and the names I had thrown at her, Elena now had the right to throw at me. Sobs ripped through me, tearing my chest apart, making it all the harder to breathe.
A soothing hand rubbed my back. “Shh… Come on… It’s not your fault, you obviously didn’t know… Breathe or you’ll pass out… Breathe with me OK?”
I closed and matched my breathing pattern on hers. I wanted to die of shame, but not before apologizing to the kind, generous woman who was trying to help me regain control of my heaving, laboured breathing.
It took me awhile, but sheer will got my breathing under some control. I refused to look up at Elena; her arm was still around me, and I suddenly couldn’t bear its weight. It only reminded me of the weight of the consequences of my actions.
I wet my parched lips. “I… Thank you.”
“You’re welcome.” Her voice was gentle. “I don’t…”
“Please,” I whispered. “Not… Not now. Give me… a minute. Please.”
Finding the words to apologize to the woman whose husband I’d been busy falling in love with wasn’t easy. My eyes fell on the pile of folders scattered around and, having way too much nervous energy to spend, I set out to pick them up.
I couldn’t look at her. I just couldn’t. I was so very conscious of Elena’s presence, it was all I could bear. It took her a couple of seconds before she started working at my side. Quickly and efficiently, we tidied up.
“Thank you,” I whispered, still avoiding her eyes.
She must have somehow sensed my volatile mood and didn’t say anything. Instead, she just stood there, holding the things she had helped pick up and waiting to enter my condominium where she’d probably take the time to help me set them down and then help me get over this wretched pain. I somehow knew that Elena had not only figured it out, but that her loving, gentle gestures that had eased my breathing were second nature to her. I also knew she’d do the same thing to ease the pain in my heart, even if she was caught in an agonising whirlwind of her own and God only knew if she had anyone to help her…
“Where should I put these?” she asked, still gentle.
The tears that were pouring down my cheeks were clouding my vision, so I vaguely gestured towards the dining room table. I kept my face averted as she passed by and turned towards the closed door. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, forced myself to gain control and, a few moments later, the tears stopped coming. I smiled a little wryly as I realised the irony of this particular talent – I’d acquired it after John & Cassie’s betrayal.
I took another deep breath and turned around. “Would you like some tea?”
She was so beautiful. How could Dex ever think of cheating on her? “Yes, please.”
“Come,” I invited, gesturing to the little counter that lined one side of my kitchen. It would make it easier to talk if I were to keep my hands busy. “So,” I said, as I set to work. “This is a little bit of an embarrassing situation.”
“Christine,” she softly interrupted. “It’s not your fault. You didn’t know.”
I blinked back the treacherous tears and angrily dumped dry tea leaves in the teapot. “I should have known.”
“Ah, I see,” Elena said. Did she sound amused? “Well then, it is your fault, since everyone knows you should always hire a private investigator when you start seeing someone.”
She did sound amused. I looked and, sure enough, a little smile was playing around her mouth. I could bear to look at her only for a fleeting moment; my eyes quickly slipped away. “I just… It’s not something…” I took a deep breath, then forced myself to look at her. I wanted her to know this was truly sincere. “I would never have even gone for coffee had I known he was seeing someone else, let alone that he was married.”
“I know,” she softly said – and I realised that she really, truly did.
But I just had to make sure, make her see why so that she’d never even doubt me. I couldn’t live with such a strain on my reputation, even with a woman whom I would probably never even see again. I had to do all I could to wipe off as much of it as I could. “I would never do such a thing because it happened to me as well, and I would never want to put someone though what I went through.”
Her eyes widened and filled with even more sorrow. She reached out as if to touch my hand, but stopped herself.
“So you see,” I continued, “not only have I destroyed your relationship with Dex, but I’ve done something I have condemned my best friend and ex-fiancé for.”
Her mouth formed a perfect little ‘o’. Her perfection made me want to hate her, but I couldn’t. She was just too lovely.
“I also wanted you to know that nothing… physical happened. We never even kissed. Something was holding us back. I was scared, and he probably felt guilty.”
She sighed, a sad sigh that set off one of my own. “It’s much more complicated than that, Christine,” she said. “It’s not as if I’m not at least partly at fault.”
I set a steaming cup of tea in front of her. “It doesn’t excuse what we did,” I firmly said, pushing the milk and sugar towards her.
“No, it doesn’t excuse him one bit,” she corrected me. “What he did was wrong. But if we are going to clean up this mess, it’s important to understand why everyone acted the way they did.”
“How can you be so calm and rational about this?” I couldn’t hide my admiration. “When I found out about Cassie and John, I went insane.”
“I have Jacob to think of.”
I froze. Surely she wouldn’t be referring to… No, it couldn’t be… “Who’s Jacob?” I whispered, hoping against all hope the answer would be different from the one I expected.
Her eyes drowned me with their sadness. “Jacob is our little boy. He’s four years old.”
Elena’s face went out of focus, and I had to grip the counter tightly to make sure I didn’t fall. I vaguely heard the sound of clattering and quick footsteps, and there she was, helping me lean on the wall and slide harmlessly down it to sit on the floor.
After a few moments, I looked up at her with a wry smile. “I cause you grief and yet here you are, helping me cope with mine.”
She didn’t smile back, just thoughtfully stared at me for a couple of beats. “I want you to stop,” she finally said, a little sharply.
I was a little stunned by her tone, so different from the one she’d used with me up to now. “Excuse me?”
“Did you know Dex is married?”
I shook my head, a little bemused and happy for Jacob that he had this woman as for mother.
“Then technically, you didn’t do anything wrong. You were dating a single guy, for all you knew.”
I didn’t answer; I was dumbfounded by this strong, selfless woman, who was putting everyone before herself. What if I had reacted the same way when I had caught Cassie and John? Would things have ended differently? What of my relationship with John, the first and only man I’ve ever loved? What of my current situation; shouldn’t I be the one taking care of the injured party, instead of debating the degree of my own guilt? What kind of egocentric, selfish person was I?
“This single guy ended up being married to you and has a four year old son. What are we going to do?”
She looked at me a little sharply. Something I had said hadn’t passed muster with her, and I was quick to identify what.
“I know what I’m going to do,” I added. “I’m never seeing him again.”
Her features softened a little. “That’s not what took me by surprise.”
“The fact that you said ‘we’.”
I took a few moments to mull over my choice of words. “I don’t see it any other way. You might not see me as being guilty, but it doesn’t help the way I feel. Plus Dex played both of us for fools. I might not be as upset as you, but I’m still pretty upset. I want to do everything I can to help you. If you’ll have me.”
Elena’s lips tightened, and I was surprised and touched by the tears pooling in her eyes. “That… That would be great. We… We moved here right before Jacob was born and haven’t had time to make new friends. Plus, I haven’t been good at keeping in touch with my old ones. I feel so alone – and that’s been part of the problem.”
As Elena told me the rest of her story, I couldn’t help but wonder at the oddness of the situation. Here we were, two women who should hate each other – or, at the very least, share an intense common distaste for the other – but instead we were bonding.
“I don’t think that your depression after Jacob’s birth constitutes a strong enough reason for Dex to cheat on you,” I said with a frown.
“Tried to cheat on me,” Elena corrected me. “Nothing happened.”
“Nothing physical,” I retorted. “I hate to break it to you, but what he did was just as bad as sleeping with someone.”
Elena heaved a heavy sigh. “I guess so.”
I sensed a hesitation that bothered me. “You’re not thinking of forgiving him, are you?”
She frowned. “Why? Are you hoping I’ll divorce him so that you can be with him?”
My jaw dropped open.
Elena’s eyes filled with guilt. “Oh God, I’m sorry I said that. I know you’re not like that, Christine. Please forgive me; it’s just that this is a very disconcerting situation. I guess I’m at a loss as to how to deal with it.”
Silence fell for a few moments.
“As for your question,” Elena picked up the conversation again, “I don’t know if I can blame him completely for what happened. Although I know it’ll never be the same, especially when it comes to trust, I don’t think divorce is necessarily the foremost action to be taken.”
My eyes widened in shock. “But this… This is the worse thing he could have done!” I spluttered. “It’s not like he ditched you for a guy’s week-end or splurged on a sports car. It’s a betrayal of the promise you made to each other when you decided to get married and of the vows you took on your wedding day!”
Elena was quiet for a long while, studying my face as if trying to figure a puzzle out. “John slept with Cassie, right?” she asked.
I stiffened. I expected anything but that. “Yes.”
“How many times?”
“Once. But once is enough.”
“He was a little tipsy and used it as an excuse to succumb to Cassie’s flirting.”
“So it was all his fault?”
“Of course. He should have kept his pants on.”
“Cassie isn’t innocent in all this.”
“No, she isn’t. She was always trying to best me, ever since elementary school.”
“And yet, you kept her in your life, close by, knowing that she was a liability. Tell me, is she good-looking?”
I nodded. “What are you trying to say? That it’s my fault John cheated on me, that I dangled Cassie like easy bait in front of him?”
The ludicrous image must have amused Elena, because she smiled. “I’m just trying to point out that things are never as black and white as you want them to be.”
“Look, if you’re looking for a rational reason to forgive Dex and ensure Jacob keeps his father…”
“Marriage,” she softly but firmly interrupted me, “is a lot of work. It’s a sacred institution guided by divine laws that two imperfect people are trying to follow. It’s bound to hit bumps on the road, some bigger than others.”
“I’d say,” I mumbled.
At that, she smiled again. She really was as beautiful outside as she seemed to be inside. “I’m not going to decide the fate of my marriage without taking a couple of things in consideration. For example, why did Dex do this, and does my behaviour account for any of it?”
“Even if you pushed him away and he had to seek solace and comfort in the arms of another woman,” I said with quite a bit of sarcasm, “how can you ever trust him again? He’s done it once; he can do it again, especially if you forgive him.”
“It depends on how he handles this entire situation, I guess,” she mused. “After all, he did restrain himself from the ultimate act of infidelity.”
“Even if you and he had slept together,” she continued, “I’d have to first understand why, then admit to my part. Again it doesn’t mean that I’d ever trust him again or that our marriage would survive, but that I could forgive him and move on, rather than cling obstinately to my pain.” She gave me a look that was impossible to misinterpret.
“I’m not clinging to my pain,” I huffed, feathers severely ruffled.
“Maybe you’re using it as justification for breaking off a relationship you weren’t ready for?” Elena softly offered.
“I was ready for a relationship at the age of 14,” I snapped.
“There could be a thousand reasons why you would be clinging.”
“I’m not clinging!” I cried.
“So tell me, why weren’t you able to forgive your ex for a drunken mistake that was probably the result of a calculated move by a jealous friend who’d been biding her time?”
My jaw slackened and my eyes lost focus as I was thrown back two years to that fateful night. Usually all I saw in these painful flashbacks was John, asleep beside Cassie, stumbling out of bed after me, pathetic in his attempts at apologizing. But this time, I focused on Cassie, on the little smile that was playing on her mouth – before turning inward. I saw myself ranting and raving, screaming and crying – but not once did I listen. What would I have heard had I listened? How would things have turned out? I didn’t like the way the questions were making me feel.
“How do you stand the guilt?” I asked.
“How do you stand the anger?” she retorted.
“It fuels me, to become better, to show that I’m better than an unfaithful fiancé and a treacherous best friend.”
“It helps me deal with problems, face them rather than bury them, learn from them, heal and grow from the experience.”
“It doesn’t drag you down?”
“A lot less than anger does, especially when I channel my guilt into action.”
It was so much to digest in such a short time, and it was all so foreign yet so… logical. I was at a loss for words and once again we were each left to our thoughts.
“I didn’t want to listen,” I suddenly said, as a couple of things finally slipped in place. “It was easier being angry.”
“Ah,” was all Diana said.
“You shouldn’t do that,” I continued. “I didn’t have too much to lose. You have Dex and Jacob.”
“Dex is a good guy. You’re right. There has got to be a reason he did this that would make it understandable and hopefully you will be able to forgive him.”
It felt so odd to have such words come out of my mouth. I never was much for instant forgiveness – or, if I was truly honest with myself, with forgiveness in general. I had been burned too many times to appreciate the act of forgiveness; I had learned that people tend to repeat their mistakes time after time, and it had just been safer to not forgive anyone.
But maybe, just maybe, in my haste to protect myself, I had made the crucial mistake of lumping everyone in the same category. Was that really fair? And, more specifically, had it been fair to John that I had lumped him in the same category as Cassie?
“John is a good guy, too,” I softly said.
“What are you thinking?”
“Cassie and John are totally different. I never should have judged John with the same harshness as I judged Cassie.”
“Cassie had always tried to undermine me. She always did the same thing in different ways, and it was always to best me. John and I… We dated for almost six years, and he never repeated the same mistake twice.”
“That’s a great person right there,” Elena gently pointed out. “Dex is like that, too.”
“Which is why you are going to give it a chance,” I said, as I slowly began to really understand.
She nodded. “And which is why maybe you should consider giving John another chance.”
My heart clenched. “Maybe.”
“Are you still in touch?”
“Yes. I couldn’t bear to cut him out.” The thought of never seeing him again cut more than his betrayal had, and yet I couldn’t get over what he had done. Well, maybe not until now. My heart squeezed again, even more painfully. “It could have been partly my fault, you know,” I thoughtfully added.
She didn’t say anything.
“It was a very stressful year, and I had been taking it out on him. He’d just listen to me rant and rave, then ask me what I needed, and he always gave it to me. He had been drinking more than usual, and,” my voice broke, “maybe that was because of me. To deal with the pressure of my rants.” I didn’t think I could stand the pain in my chest anymore.
Again, she said nothing, but put an arm around my shoulder and held me as tears started pouring down my face. All this time, all this wasted time I could have been with John…
Suddenly, the pain in my chest erupted and warmth filled it. It took its time, moving from one limb to the next, as I was filled with something I hadn’t felt in a long while: hope.
I shook my head. “Can it really be this simple?”
“Sometimes, when it’s really worth it, yes,” Elena said. “No one is perfect. You have to evaluate what degree of imperfection you are willing to accept. I know that if you and Dex had slept together, I wouldn’t have been able to forgive him. I also have forgiven you because you didn’t know about Dex being married. And there is a chance that I can forgive Dex because I know the context within which he has done this, and I have a heavy hand in creating it.”
“It’s going to depend on how he handles the situations,” I said, repeating her own words.
“Thank you, by the way,” I said.
She smiled, squeezing my shoulder. “How can I not forgive the woman who invited me to the floor of her kitchen for cold tea?”
I smiled. “Maybe we should move to the living room.”
“Maybe we should,” she said, standing up with a sigh of relief.
The next couple of weeks were intense, which served to bring Elena and I closer together until we became friends. I haven’t seen Dex since then, nor do I want to; I have enough on my plate trying to iron things out with John. I’m happy to report that both Elena and Dex as well as John and myself are on the road to recovery. I know John still has the ring he had been planning on giving me at graduation – hey, it’s not my fault he dropped it! – and I’m pretty sure both couples will last for a long, long time.
As for me, my talk with Elena on the kitchen floor has shifted my perspective in a way I never could have imagined. I still tend to slip into my old way of thinking, but John, patient and loving John, is always quick to remind me what I’m doing and the consequences of such extreme thinking. It’s a hard road to travel, but it’s a lot more exciting than the previous one I had been on. And while I’m hoping to keep my friendship with Elena, I don’t know how either she, Dex or John would take it. To be honest, I don’t know how I would feel on a double date with them. After all, Dex was the only man other than John who managed to capture my attention and for that, he will always remain a tempting backup plan to run to in case things don’t work out with John. I was lucky enough that I hadn’t become quite the other woman, and I didn’t intend to ever come close again.
ã Sahar Sabati, 2008