A Long Time Ago Ch. 02byLynnGKS©
Note to reader: The plot of this story was not original to me. Several other authors have written stories with similar plots, e.g. the late discovery of infidelity. But as I read and re-read my Chapter 1 and tried unsuccessfully to improve the ending I realized that I faced a dilemma: What this wife had done was indeed unforgivable. But WHY was it unforgivable. A brief affair IS sometimes forgivable − even one lasting three years. But this one was not! Why? This story is the dénouement that I hope will answer that question.
I looked at my calendar and saw my regular appointment in this time slot marked "canceled" and the name of David Newton penciled in. I had last seen the Newtons three weeks ago and was scheduled to see them again next week. What was this I wondered?
This was a very interesting case. Mr. Newton had accidently discovered some hidden letters and photographs describing an affair his wife had had twenty years previously. He described the pain he felt as he read the letters, which gave explicit details of his wife's sexual relations with her lover. He became physically ill and it was clear to me that he was being destroyed by his natural jealousy and the sick knowledge that for over twenty years his wife had lived a lie.
The affair had ended, not because the wife or her lover wanted it to, but because the lover had been killed in a tragic accident. Hubby had read every detail of their affair over many days while his wife was on vacation with friends. He had not confronted her until over a week after his discovery.
I remembered their first visit a year ago when I asked about how she felt about her lover. She looked at me angrily. "I loved him. I grieved when he died. I remember him with love. Yes I'm still in love with him."
Her husband had heard her say that but he already knew it was true from reading those letters. She seemed to think that being in love made their relationship, somehow, okay. Chaste. Not adulterous.
My goal was to get her to understand that after seven years of marriage working part time and raising a three-year old and keeping house, she was just a bored housewife trying to recapture the excitement of her youth. After many months of counseling we were making progress. I had wanted them to think about their situation and talk to each other before our next visit. But David was here alone. Why?
My receptionist showed him in when I buzzed and I stood up and greeted him. He seemed relaxed and under control as if he had made a difficult decision. He sat in a chair next to mine.
"We have an appointment next week for you and Mary together," I said. "Is there a special reason you want to meet with me alone?"
"Yes there is," he said. "After a lot of thought I have finally made a decision to get a divorce and try to find a new life for myself."
This was very surprising to me. I had thought that we were making progress toward a reconciliation.
"Could you tell me how you reached this decision?"
He began a calm and carefully worded explanation.
"Two weeks ago a close friend, trying to be helpful, reminded me of the many happy times that Mary and I had had over the past twenty wonderful years. As I thought about those years a terrible question suddenly captured my mind. I remembered those happy vacations, just the two of us, when we had really great sex. I asked myself, who was Mary making love to? Was it me or was it the other man she still loved? Remember she kept saying she loved us both."
I nodded and realized he was right. I knew from my talks with Mary alone that she had indeed on occasion fantasized about her lover during sex with her husband.
"Go on," I said.
"There were other times when she seemed to bubble over with joy and laughter and love for me when I got home from work. Now I'm wondering whether she had just finished one of her trips back in time re-reading her letters and viewing her photographs. Was our marriage giving her this happiness or was it the memories of an affair with her lover?"
I nodded again. Mary had told me that when she felt tired and overworked she sometimes got out those old letters and re-read them. She felt very happy after doing this.
Well, I thought, Dave had accurately described what was actually happening during those twenty "wonderful" years she had given him. It was funny that a friend who wanted to help him had triggered this new understanding.
"Go on," I said.
"I feel that more than twenty beautiful years of my life have been stolen from me by a man who has been dead for twenty years. None of my happy memories are mine anymore. Oh I know that some are mine because she loved me too, but I'm afraid to remember any of those beautiful times because it might have been her lover who gave them to her, not me."
"Do you remember our last visit?" I asked. "Mary said something to the effect that maybe it was not love at all − only a frantic search for an exciting youth that was passing away with the boring years of household chores. You remember that?"
"Yes I remember that," he said. "But that changes nothing. She believed she was in love with him for twenty years. How can I remember those years with love, when − excuse me Doctor for my language − when sometimes my wife was pumping her ass, fuckin another man as I made love to her?"
If a councilor's job is to make a client face reality, I thought, then I've done my job superbly, but Mr. Newton had reached a very painful reality. I knew for a fact that Mary had often thought of her lover as she made love to her husband. Of course I could never tell him he was right.
He thanked me for my help as he left. It was to be a year before I saw him again. I saw Mary the following week and she was distraught and her eyes red from crying. He had given me permission to tell her what he had said and I explained to her why he felt he could no longer trust his beautiful memories over the last twenty years.
Mary asked me over and over if I had told him about how she sometimes had thoughts about her lover during lovemaking with her husband. I assured her he had reached that conclusion alone.
I continued to see her every week as the divorce proceedings took place. She kept the house and continued to work full time. I was trying to get her to forgive herself for the actions that caused the loss of her husband. I was trying to persuade her to forget her grief and seek a new life and I was not making much progress.
Almost a year later her husband dropped in to see me unexpectedly as I was about to go to lunch. I ordered something sent up for the both of us. I was eager to hear what had happened to him. He was the picture of a happy man in control of his life.
"I bought a condo on the Florida panhandle at a place called Watercolor," he said. "There are a lot of retired folks there and a lot of second homes used in the winter by people from up North. There's a beach and fishing and I'm making friends."
"And a fairly large number of divorced women and widows," he added with a broad smile.
"So I'm making friends AND girlfriends," he said. "And I have fallen out of love with Mary, which took the better part of the past year. I rarely think of her now."
"Fallen OUT of love?" I asked. "That's different from falling IN love isn't it?"
"Yes it is and it's much more difficult," he said.
"How did you manage to do that?" I asked. Patients usually talked about hating a former spouse but I had never heard one say he "fell out of love" with her.
"It was very difficult because when I went down there she was in my thoughts almost constantly. But it hurt so much to think about her that I knew I had to get it under control or I'd go crazy. Do you remember those naked Polaroid pictures I told you about?"
I remembered them. Mary had used them for sexual arousal on occasion when she was re-reading those letters. I nodded and he continued.
"Those were the ugliest part of the entire collection of stuff she saved. Much worse than the words. I could see them in my mind and they disgusted me. Well, I practiced calling up those pictures in my head immediately when any thought related to Mary popped into my head. So she came into my mind followed immediately by a naked picture of her or him."
My God! I thought. Negative reinforcement! A psychological technique that many counselors might have recommended. I wouldn't have used it, of course, if I were trying for a reconciliation.
Then he chuckled and said, "I punished myself for thinking about her and it worked. Gradually I thought of her less and less. And more than that, when I DID think of her even without the dirty pictures the anger and jealousy seemed to diminish and then go away altogether.
And, most important of all, the love went away. I can go for weeks now without a single thought of her. And I can think of her when I want to without any anger or jealousy or love."
"I had to come up here to do some important personal business but I wanted to see you while I was here. I wanted to ask about Mary. I know she's in counseling and I know you can't tell me personal things but I'm worried that she may not be handling this divorce as well as I am. And I suspect she's punishing herself for having destroyed our marriage. Is there some way I can help?"
If ever a man had reason to be angry and bitter at a woman it was David Newton. He had been betrayed and then lied to for years. Yet here he was concerned about a wife he no longer loved. Was it wise for them to meet, I asked myself? Would it help her or harm her to see that he had found happiness without her? Would a joint session with me be helpful?
"Let me think about that," I said. "How long are you going to be in town?"
"If I can help her," he responded, "then as long as it takes. I don't want her to suffer like I did."
I got his cell phone number and promised to call him tomorrow afternoon after my regular weekly session with Mary. How do I tell her about this, I asked myself. After all SHE was my patient now that her husband no longer needed counseling. I had to think of her welfare first. I thought about the question for hours that night sipping single malt before I reached a decision.
When I broke the news to Mary the next day she was not surprised. Her son had told her he was in town. When I told her I had talked with him her reaction was almost pathetic.
"What did he say about me?" She asked anxiously, leaning forward in her chair.
"He said all his anger and jealously are gone. But so is his love for you."
It was like I had kicked her in the stomach. She dropped her head and tears came into her eyes.
"Mary we have talked about this," I said almost harshly. "I told you that you needed to prepare yourself to live without him. That's what we've been working on since he left. You keep resisting that idea."
"Does he ... does he see other women?" She asked pathetically.
"Yes he does," I answered. "Get yourself under control Mary. He doesn't love you any more. You have to face that. He wants to help you. He asked me how he might help. Would you like to meet with him? Just the three of us?"
She nodded enthusiastically. "Oh yes! Yes I would," she said.
Maybe I did the wrong thing I said to myself as I did it, but I set up an appointment for the two of them the next afternoon. I realized that she still clung to her love for him and her dream of somehow getting him back. I had tried to get her to work on adjusting her life to his absence but with only modest success. Perhaps when she saw he didn't love her any more she would try harder to change her life.
The next day when she came into the office I saw that she had taken every effort to look her best. She'd had her hair done and she was wearing one of her best dresses. Her makeup was perfect. Damn I thought. Maybe this is not such a good idea after all. I realized that for her this would be an attempt to get him interested in her again.
"Now Mary," I began after she was seated, "I want to keep this very low key. I want you to hear from his own voice how he has adjusted after the divorce. And I want you to think about how you might try to do the same thing."
She nodded. "I understand," she said.
When my receptionist ushered him into the room she stood up smiling and extended her hand. He shook it graciously.
"It's so good to see you again Dave," she said sweetly. "I hope you're doing well in your new home in Florida."
Dave sat down and began an exchange of pleasantries that were mostly meaningless and were really an attempt to avoid the troublesome areas in their history. Dave told her about his new home and it was clear to me that she could see that he was happy there.
I asked Dave a few key questions designed to allow him to explain that he had gotten over the sadness of their divorce. He performed as I had hoped he would and I took note of several things that I wanted to remind her of at her next visit − things he had done that she should copy. I congratulated myself for making a wise decision.
But then it happened very suddenly before I could head it off. Without departing from the tone of the conversation she suddenly departed from the subject matter.
"I'm so very sorry that I hurt you so badly, David," she said, using a brief moment of silence to squeeze in the apology I had warned her not to say at our visit yesterday.
Dave took it well, even though I had warned him not to get into this kind of conversation.
"I'm sorry too Mary, but I'm over the pain now," he responded softly. "I've turned my life around and you should work to do the same."
God bless his heart I said to myself. He said it in an easy and supportive way and it was the perfect reply. I was trying to decide exactly what to say next when Mary spoke first.
"It was the lies I told you that were the worst things," she said. "It started with a few and then a few more and before I knew it I was living a lie. Can you forgive me?"
I broke in quickly. "Tell us more about Watercolor," I said.
Dave began an elaborate description of his new home and described the small size of his condo and how easy it was to make friends there.
When he ran out of things to say and before I could start to talk, Mary did it again.
"People have to be honest with each other, even sometimes when it hurts," she said.
I tried again to direct her to a different topic but she persisted. This was not at all what I had wanted this meeting to be about. Then suddenly Mary said it directly to him speaking forcefully.
"I'll never lie to you again David. Test me and I'll show you! Ask me anything! I won't lie."
I'm not gonna be able to stop this, I thought. I hope Dave has recovered enough to handle this situation. I remembered how unstable he had been when this thing started almost two years ago.
Dave thought a moment in silence. He seemed to be under complete control. I was convinced that Mary would tell him the truth about anything he asked. She still felt she might have a chance to get him back. She wouldn't dare risk a lie. But what would he ask?
Both Mary and I watched him closely as he sat there. After a full minute of careful thought he finally spoke softly and lovingly.
"Do you remember our fifteenth anniversary when we went to Chicago for that long weekend?"
"Oh yes I remember it," she said. "It was a fabulous vacation and a beautiful celebration. We had the most wonderful time. It is one of the most lovely memories of my life and I have remembered it always with love."
"Do you remember what we did all day Saturday after we got to the hotel Friday night?"
Mary giggled and I was surprised to see her blush like a little girl. Then she nodded eagerly and with happiness in her voice she made a smiling and giggling response. This fifty year-old woman was acting like a teenager.
"That was the first time we had been alone together in weeks. We made love all day long. They didn't even get to clean up our room till we went to dinner that night."
Then she giggled again.
"Do remember when we decided not to get dressed and to make love all afternoon and I called down and asked for late room clean up?" David asked.
She giggled again and nodded her head vigorously.
"What did you do then Mary?"
"I remember it like it was yesterday," she giggled. "I climbed on and did you cowboy!"
"That's right Mary," Dave said softly. "That's exactly what you did. Now, you're never gonna lie to me again. Right?"
"NEVER," she said emphatically. "Never again!"
"All right Mary," he said very softly. "Who did you climb on and do cowboy? Your husband or your dead lover?"
A look of absolute shock and terror captured her face. She closed her eyes and clinched them tight as if to shut out a cruel world. She began shaking her head from side to side as though saying no to some question. I didn't know what.
"Remember, Mary, tell the truth," he said lovingly.
As I watched her I knew she was trying very hard to tell the absolute truth.
She stopped shaking her head and took a deep breath. She looked Dave in the eye and broke into tears. Then she sobbed, "I DON'T REMEMBER."
Dave nodded and looked at me. It was clear to me that she had spoken the absolute truth. She remembered the details of fucking him but not WHO she thought she was fucking. That memory was beautiful for her but was painful for him because for all he could know she may have been fucking her lover, not her husband.
Then Dave spoke again in a voice that was soft and loving.
"You don't remember Mary because it didn't matter to you whether it was me or him. You loved us both. But it mattered to me − until I stopped loving you it mattered very much to me."
Mary was lost in sobbing and gasping for breath. Tears flowed freely down her cheeks. Dave got up to leave my office. When he got to the door he turned and spoke to me.
"I guess I wasn't very much help," he said sadly.
"On the contrary," I said. "You were a great help. You made her understand in a few moments what I have been trying to tell her for a year. Now Mary knows why you can never love her again and she knows exactly what she has to do. Stop loving you."
To be continued.