Stop me if you think that you’ve heard this one before
My horoscope this week mentioned something about secrets. That my hard crab shell wouldn’t totally protect me against prodding outsiders or temptations. And that if I wasn’t careful, those thinner parts would crack, letting past lovers and old vices squeeze through. I read this on a lazy Sunday morning, laying in bed with my boyfriend, pretending it meant nothing to me, that I wasn’t worried of what this could mean.
It can be really easy to live with a secret. You get used to it, like a dull pain, pushing it way down, piling other thoughts on top – what to eat for dinner, where to go on Saturday night. It’s late at night, nestled under quilts, the sound of nothing surrounding the bed, when secrets push their way to the surface, and your whole head and body vibrates with memory.
Three and a half years ago I was living in Toronto’s east end, long time boyfriend and cat at home. I worked at the other end of the city, and spent afternoons melding my small town naivity with a newfound city outlook.
It wasn’t long before I met someone who did more than wolf whistle out a car window. He would stroll in to my work, make me laugh, and laugh more. One night a few of us went out dancing. Mid-twist he kissed me and all my senses were on fire. I stood shocked for a moment, August heat and lust radiating. Outside, we talked. Nothing could happen. We were both in relationships. That’s it.
But innocent walks turned into conversations tinged with sexual innuendo. Alleyway makeout sessions, then sex — anywhere we could. I found myself turning into this seemingly new person. It was a new form of power I had never had. Kind of like on Mad Men, when Henry Francis kisses Betty and all of a sudden she’s sultry and hyper aware of her sexuality, all nude lips and black lace instead of corals and headbands.
People who have never cheated ask how you can do it. Mentally, emotionally. It’s different for everyone. But what they don’t understand is that it gets to the point where recklessness overpowers all logic and all sense of “right.” You are completely nonplussed by the possible repercussions and are only in the moment, in the steamy heat and heart palpitations and furtive glances. It can be raw and exciting and it’s selfish, for sure; you are totally and unabashedly thinking of yourself. And in full disclosure, at the risk of seeming like a horrible person, I barely thought about my boyfriend when the other guy’s hands lifted up my skirt.
Sitting on my boyfriend’s lap some nights though, I would burst out crying, seemingly out of nowhere. Bewildered, he’d hold me close, tell me it was ok, even though he had no idea what “it” was. In those moments guilt rendered me mute. I burrowed into his neck, teetering on the edge of confessing, but knew there was no way I could.
But then he found out. I crashed in my friend’s spare room, she and her fiancee out cold as I sobbed into the pillow. Each morning saw a new email from him, calling me a bitch, a liar. Black hearted. Fake. Black type seared my skin, my head, and for the first time, I saw myself from the outside and didn’t know what to do. All my flaws, that I covered up with concealer and big smiles, became neon, and glaringly obvious to him.
For a year after, he would ask me why I did it. As if it’s a simple question. I’m still struggling to figure it out. He’d ask about regret. But regret isn’t simple. I’m a bitch for saying I dont’t regret it, but a liar for saying I do. I spent each night wondering if my boyfriend would find out, wondering if the other guy meant what he said to me. I was all nerves and electricity, my insides surging each time my boyfriend gazed silently at his phone.
So, regret. Hard to pin down. You can regret picking the pasta over the duck, the blue over the dusty pink. But regretting a turning point in your life? You can, but maybe it’s more you don’t want to, because then that’s admitting you have completely and utterly fucked up.
I used to ask my friends if they thought I was a bad person, almost daring them to answer in the affirmative. But they all said no; I was just making questionable choices. Break up with him, they said. But I was scared. And maybe in a way I took the cowardly way out of it.
Today, we’re friends. Kind of. We text, say we’ll meet up for coffee. Our get togethers are rare. I worry he’ll call me a whore and he barely looks me in the eye. It’s weird. That quiet sadness that’s disguised as nostalgia. I tell myself I won’t do it again. And I want to believe it. That the next guy will be enough. That I’ll be enough.