I was sitting on the lanai, drinking coffee and reading the paper, when my husband came out of the house in his blue terrycloth robe. He sat down in the chair facing me.
"I'm gay," he said, and started crying.
We had been married, truly happily, for 32 years. He was my college sweetheart; the father of our two grown sons.
"No, you're not," I shot back. And then we were both crying.
Our relationship felt strikingly ordinary
In college, he lived upstairs from me. It was 1978. From the moment I met him, I never once questioned his sexuality.
We got married right after graduation. Our first son came four years later; the second, five years after that. We had a sheepdog, a van, and a 100-year-old Victorian home in a quaint little town. My husband taught at a local school while I worked 10-hour days managing a newspaper.
Things were normal. We had lots of friends. We were absolutely solid -- the kind of couple people aspire to be.
My husband's indiscretions came out of nowhere
After 25 years inseparably together, one night my husband didn't come home. It was totally unlike him. I sat on the couch, alone in the dark, frantically waiting for him. It was still the early days of cellphones -- and he didn't yet have one.
Just before dawn, he came through the door.
"Where were you?" I demanded, a mix of fury and fear.
"I was at a party," he said, and walked toward the stairs.
I followed him to the bathroom. He was climbing into the shower.
"Where were you?" I hissed. "Who were you with?"
He told me to be quiet. I would wake the boys.
Why is he showering? He's having an affair, I thought. The next day, I slipped into investigator mode and snooped through all my husband's things.
I found a plastic device that looked like a giant breathing tube. "What is this?" I asked. It was a penis enlarger.
Then I found DVDs with man-on-man sex. I took them outside, put them on the driveway, and ground them back and forth across the gravel.
The affair was with a man he met in a bar. He was so sorry. He'd never do it again. It was a once-in-a-lifetime thing.
More than anything, I wanted to deny who my husband really was
I believed him. At least, I wanted to, if for no other reason than to maintain appearances. Our younger son was still in high school, and this was a small town. Everyone knew us.
I felt horribly ashamed. I tortured myself with questions that had no answers. Had I caused this? Did I miss all the signs? My self-doubt from that time still haunts me.
But half a decade later, the whole experience seemed like it was long gone. My husband's short affair with a man had become a buried memory; just a hiccup in an otherwise successful, loving marriage. Things felt good again. Normal.
We fulfilled a lifelong dream of moving to Florida. He got his pension early in a teacher buyout. He got another job in Florida. Off we went, on a new adventure.
Nothing can stay buried forever
It was barely a year after our move when I found a fee on our credit card statement for an adult hookup site. This time, my suspicions could be easily proven or disproven with the ease of acquiring paper trails online.
I had access to all the calls he had made on his cellphone. I installed software on his laptop that allowed me to track his emails. He was hooking up with men. Strange men. After school. In parking lots.
Why had I not thought this might happen before leaving my job, my family, and my friends to move across the country with him? Hadn't I known all along that this was no phase; nothing that could be forgotten or let go by either of us?
I gave him an ultimatum: the other guy, or me.
Months went by. Then, one morning, he came down dressed for work. I was already up, as per our usual routine of 30 years, to pack his lunch and kiss him goodbye.
"I'm leaving," he said as he entered the kitchen. "I'll be back after school to get my stuff."
I screamed and begged. He walked out the door.
My husband's truth pushed our family to the brink
I ran to the phone to call the boys. He had his chance to tell them. He wouldn't, so I was about to.
My sons lived on opposite sides of the country. Each got on the first plane they could to Florida. Those first days as a broken family are a blur. I remember us sitting around the table for hours and hours. In shock. In disbelief. Angry. Sad.
I hated my husband for what he had done. I hoped my sons would punish their father by never again speaking to him. Days passed, and the embittered, vengeful wife gave way to a mother would couldn't possibly deprive her sons of the person who had always been a great dad.
I encouraged the boys to contact him. I encouraged my husband to explain to the boys it wasn't about them. Slowly, we all began to heal.
Finally, I found empathy for the struggles he endured
It's been more than six years since my husband walked out. At some point, I stopped hating him. I stopped feeling as if he used me. I began to understand that for more than 30 years he ignored his pre-wired yearnings only because he loved me so much. He just got to some point I can't understand, a point where it was unbearable for him to not live his truest self.
In some respects I feel like I've been widowed -- as though in some way, the man I married no longer exists. But in his place, is a gay guy who understands me completely. A man I love like a brother. A lifelong companion with whom I can share inside jokes no one else would understand.
I've found a way to be happy -- but it's not always easy carrying around that box of memories, unable to be opened, unable to be thrown away.
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