- Martin Luther King Jr.
Being a woman is sticky sometimes, like the cotton candy residue that clings to your fingers long after the circus is over. It is both the memory of something sweet and the sadness that lingers because you know the elephants are trapped in a hot trailer somewhere behind the theater. The rancid smell of animal waist and the beauty of red lazor lights coexist somehow, mingled together to form something beautiful and terrible. Yes, some self-righteous feminist somewhere will read this and shout from the rooftops, calling for the swift revocation of my woman card, but it is true. We say we want to be equal, but somehow we all long for rescue, for salvation from our self loathing and brokenness. Any woman who says she has never wanted that is a liar.
Take infidelity for example. Ask any woman on the street what she thinks of those who participate in this unforgivable sin and you’ll get an overwhelming chorus of “off with their heads!” I can’t say I’d blame them. I’m not saying it is a virtuous act that is just misunderstood by society. It is wrong. But if I could look into the bedrooms of these same women, I bet I’d find a suspiciously large t-shirt in the hamper or a hastily scrawled love letter from someone else’s man in the bottom of her lingerie drawer. I was in that chorus once, the one that sang “I would never do that to someone” so loudly my voice grew sore with the effort.
Ryan was when I learned to never say never.
I still remember how it felt to love him, to know in the marrow of my bones that I was the one he was meant to love all along. I never started out wanting another woman’s husband in my bed. It began with a long drunken conversation sitting atop coin operated hotel washing machines. It sounds so cliche now, but he told me how she didn’t understand him and how she didn’t love what he loved. I told him things too: about how my back was bent by so many in my short twenty-two years. He held my hand, and I didn’t feel guilty. I wanted to rescue him, and I still believe he wanted to do the same for me.
I really believed he would leave her. I built a house in my head where we both would live with his daughter, making love in a bed that belonged to us at night when normal couples did it: not during stolen lunch breaks or predawn visits to my apartment. It would be complicated, sure. I was born into a family that is more of a grape vine than a tree, so I knew this more than most. But I wanted him so much it hurt. At first, I didn’t sleep with him. I held on to my virtue so tightly my knuckles turned white. But six long months of waiting and 3 AM phone calls and heavy promises pushed me to the edge, and I gave myself to him. I think when women imagine what infidelity feels like, they think it’s like giving someone a consolation prize for staying in a crumbling marriage. You’ve made it to year six of misery, have this lovely coffee mug. But it isn’t like that at all. The wrongness of it doesn’t change how skin feels on skin, hands on hips, heart on heart. It still feels like love, like something irresistible and honest, even if it is wrapped completely in deception.
It eventually erupted as affairs usually do, the molten lava of our passion filled volcano flowing down to burn us all alive. I still have scars, and I’m sure he does too. He ended it like good husbands do, and I must have called him five thousand times. I poured myself out with tears, feeling as if I’d be empty forever, knowing that she could never love him like I did. In the end, he got it all really; our friends, my secrets, the money I gave when she kicked him out for a brief three days. What did I get? A scarlet A on my breast and a bed filled to overflowing with loneliness. That still seems unfair to me somehow, as if I have the right to feel that way. What happens to equality when the floor falls out? I’d love to know.
I’m not trying to justify myself to anyone. I’m now married, and I can’t imagine the pain of that covenant destroyed. Marriage means something to me and it always has. I’m sure it meant something to Ryan too, even in the middle of all the lies to me and to his wife. I guess what I really want is for us all to stop pretending that our hands aren’t sticky and that our backs aren’t bent.
Is that too much to ask?