tagLoving WivesHouse of Cards Ch. 09

House of Cards Ch. 09


NOTE TO READERS: This is the next-to-last installment of the story. Ch. 10, which I will post in a day or so, will be the end. Many thanks to those of you who posted responses and suggestions for the story. I am honored by your interest and your comments, even the negative ones. – Ohio

** ** ** ** **

When I arrived at the house on Monday, I was not surprised to see that Marianne had gone all out. She greeted me warmly at the door, wearing an outfit she knew I liked. I could see that she'd set the table in the dining room, not the kitchen, and I saw candlesticks with fresh candles, as well as a bottle of wine we liked.

Gently but firmly I said, "Marianne, I'm not comfortable with what you have in mind. Sorry, but no candlelit dinner with wine tonight." I carried the wine and the candlesticks back into the kitchen.

She looked hurt, but said nothing. I continued, "actually, I brought a six-pack of Ringnes. It's a Norwegian beer I tried in Atlanta, and it's great. I hope you'll like it too." This was a little private joke, for me alone. Ringnes had been the beer Kristin introduced me to.

The kids had been on my mind a lot, especially because I hadn't spoken to them in weeks. I had taken the time to send them each a cheery postcard from Atlanta. Over the delicious dinner Marianne had made, I asked about their letters home, and Marianne filled me in on what they'd been doing at camp. Both were having a great time, and it was a safe bet they didn't spend much time worrying about what their parents were up to.

I said, "Marianne, we still have a few weeks, but obviously we'll have to figure out what we'll tell the children when they come home from camp if I'm not living here."

She looked stricken. "Tom, I really thought ... well, I certainly hoped you'd be back before then."

"Marianne," I said firmly, "you cheated on me for EIGHT MONTHS. Do you really expect me just to get over that within a few weeks?"

She was silent, and I said, "we have until August 30—that's about three weeks. If I'm still in the apartment, obviously we need to explain the situation to them somehow. If I'm back home but sleeping in the guest-room, perhaps we can simply say that one of us is having trouble sleeping. I don't know, Dad has a cough at night that's keeping Mom awake, something like that."

Marianne continued to look very unhappy. Finally she said, "well, I know we have the same goal in mind, which is not to upset the kids if we can avoid it."

I nodded, and said, "yes, I'm confident that we can decide together on the best thing when the time comes."

After dinner we each picked up an extension and we called the kids, who were glad to talk to us but not unduly excited. Clearly they were happy and busy at camp, had lots of friends, didn't mind talking to us for a few minutes, but then were eager to get back to their activities. Given how stormy the situation was for me and Marianne, that was a relief.

When we got off the phone I came back to the table and helped Marianne clear the dishes, then we cleaned up together. I made sure to thank her for the nice dinner, and then I said, "Marianne, can I ask you something about ... well, how did you arrange things for the kids when you spent the night at Eddie's?"

She could tell from my changing tone of voice that the serious questions were coming, so she wasn't startled. She readily replied, "I realized that I should have explained that earlier. Once or twice they had sleepovers at friends' houses, and once there was that school trip to the wilderness camp, when they were both gone for 3 days. All the other times they spent with my parents, who you know love to have them come visit. I always had my cell phone with me, but there was never any problem. It wasn't that often, Tom, maybe six times altogether. "

I just nodded. Then I said, very quietly—"Marianne, how could you let him call you 'Anni'?"

She just shook her head. "I don't know the answer to that, Tom. I know that it is terrible, and inexcusable—but so is everything that I did." She wasn't looking at me. "Eddie once asked me about ... you and me ... in bed. What we did, and so forth. I wouldn't tell him anything, wouldn't talk about it, so he let it go. Then another time he asked me what you called me, and without thinking I said, 'sometimes he calls me Anni'. Eddie didn't start using the name with me right away, but maybe about a week later he began calling me that."

I was cold with anger. "And you let him?"

"I told him at first to stop it, but he didn't. And I ... there's no excuse, Tom, I ... just gave up fighting him about it. It didn't seem worth it. Maybe it was all part of my deluded thinking, that you'd never know about the affair, about any of it, so what difference did it make?"

I had to press my lips together for a moment. This was really one of the worst parts of the betrayal. My pet name for her, coming out of that bastard's mouth!

I waited, then went on, thinking that my next question might catch her by surprise. "Marianne, are you still seeing Eddie?"

"No!" she immediately responded, and went on with some heat, "Tom, I already told you that!" Then she sat back a little, with a sigh. "Sorry—you're probably wondering why you should believe anything I tell you. But no, Tom. All I can say is the truth. I'm done with Eddie, and I'm done with cheating on you. Forever."

I pressed on. "Have you had any contact with him, since I played you that tape of the two of you together?"

"As I told you before, I called him the next day, and told him in no uncertain terms that our affair was finished. Since then, yes, I've had contact with him once. I threw away that cheap cell phone, so he couldn't reach me that way. Towards the end of last week he called me here at home, hoping we could get together. I told him once again, plain and simple, to stop calling me. If he calls any more I'm just going to hang up on him."

What I knew but Marianne didn't—at least I'd never revealed it to her—is that there were listening devices still recording throughout the house. I intended to check them the next day.

She looked up at me. "Tom, may I tell you something right away, before you ask another question? I started seeing a therapist. I went once last week, and my next appointment is tomorrow. I'm probably going to see her twice a week for awhile."

"Do you want to tell me about it?" I asked.

"Yes, I do, if that's all right. I've been re-reading the list you left for me, the one in which you listed the things you're feeling about my ... adultery. And it began to dawn on me that ..." She stopped for a moment, then went on. "... that a woman who acts in a way that gives so much pain to a man she says she adores ... well, that something must be wrong with a person like that."

She looked at me with tears in her eyes. "I mean, what kind of a woman, married to a man as wonderful and loving as you—what kind of selfish monster do I have to be to have done what I did?"

"I told you before that the affair had nothing to do with you, with our relationship. But I see that that is totally false—look at what I did! I let my ... let Eddie call me by your pet name for me. I had hours of sex with him the day before our wedding anniversary! I didn't break it off with him, even when I knew you suspected me."

"So I realized that there must be ... things about myself that I just don't understand, and that I need help to figure out. This is ... really hard for me to say. I realized that, whether or not we stay together, and ... even if you leave me ..." She was crying now.

"Even if you leave me, I have to understand what I've done to you, and to myself. Because either way, I'm going to have to live for the rest of my life with what I've done."

She put her head in her hands and cried quietly. She seemed to have finished what she wanted to say, so after a minute I spoke.

"Marianne, that sounds like a good decision. I hope it's helpful, and I hope you'll tell me about what you learn, whenever you're ready to."

She nodded, still crying, but didn't look up at me. I said quietly, "do you want me to go?"

She shook her head. "No, I have more I'd like to say to you. Just give me a minute." After a bit she looked up, smiled through her tears, and got up. "I'm just going to wash my face—I'll be right back."

I thought about what Marianne had just told me. It clicked with feelings I had had, namely that what she had done to me, or to our marriage, just seemed inexplicable. I thought we had a strong and loving marriage, and she said she thought so too. But how then could she have done what she did? It just made no sense to me—and now it had started to make no sense to Marianne either. So she was seeking help. That had to be a good thing. I didn't know if what she learned in therapy would help me to forgive her. But at least it might get easier to understand what she had done.

When Marianne returned she seemed once again in control. "Tom, I need to speak to you about you and Carrie. I'm sorry I ran out of your apartment last week, but listening to your story about ... you and her just got too overwhelming for me."

"What I'm feeling about it, first, is frightened. I'm terrified in any case that you will decide to leave me, to divorce me. God knows nobody would blame you! And the fact that you have this ... loving, sexy, eager, beautiful younger woman in your life ... well, having her might make it easier for you to decide to walk out permanently."

"But I also understand that there's nothing I can do about that. Even after just one therapy session, I recognize that the only one who gets to decide if you leave me is you."

"In a way—and maybe it's a sick, twisted way—your affair with Carrie might even be good for me. The thought of you being intimate with someone else just tears me up, Tom. In my mind I can see you touching, caressing, making love to her just as you used to do to me, or whispering love words in her ear the way you did in mine, and I can hardly even stand up. I feel as though someone has slugged me in the stomach."

"But whenever I have those feelings I know—truly KNOW—what my cheating has put you through. My nose gets rubbed in the pain I have caused you. Some of it, anyway—I'm being spared the agony of your cheating on me behind my back." She smiled ruefully at me. "Maybe I'm still getting off too easy, huh?"

"But I'm going through all the wondering about her and me. Is she more beautiful, a better lover, does she satisfy you more than I do? Last week when you told me about your first night with her, it sounded so exciting that I was completely in despair. How could I ever compete with that, at 39, after 16 years of marriage?"

"And then I saw that you had to deal with all those feelings too. Plus the fact that you did nothing to deserve them. At least I have the consolation of knowing that I deserve what you're doing!"

She paused for a moment. "I don't know if I'm making any sense tonight, Tom. There's such an enormous gap between us, and I'm the one that put it there. A couple of weeks ago you said that we had to keep talking, even though our conversations left us both pretty unhappy. I didn't understand that then, but I do now. I hope that ... I hope that you'll hang in there, and keep talking to me."

"I don't know how to make up for what I've done. Actually, I see that I simply can't make up for it—not completely. Probably not even close. But I am going to do whatever I can to try. I told you this two weeks ago, Tom: I will do ANYTHING if it will help make things better. And I mean that."

Marianne sat back in her chair—she looked exhausted. And worried. Well, she certainly had reason to be! My own mood swings when I was with her, from sympathetic to full of ice-cold rage, bewildered me, and I'm sure she could sense them by just watching my face. One minute I wanted to put a comforting arm around her, the next I imagined slapping her around, with her cowering in terror under my blows.

The people who say that dealing with a cheating wife is simple—"just throw her ass out!"—are full of shit. They have probably never been there, and they don't know what it is like from the inside. Sixteen years of love, happiness and trust, two kids we both adore—those are not nothing. Pure rage can feel great, the adrenalin rush of it, and I certainly knew that. But maybe two months later you're living in a small furnished apartment, staring at the walls, lonely and depressed and wondering why you're so far from the people who matter most to you.

On the other hand—and there's always another hand—you can't just walk back into the nest your wife has shit in. You can clean it, and you can air it out, and buy new rugs and new furniture, but it will be a long long time until the smell is gone. And there's no sense trying to rush it, or minimize how painful it is.

I looked up from my thoughts and realized Marianne was watching me. "What is it, Tom? Can you tell me what you're thinking?"

I sighed. "A couple of things, Marianne. I'm very glad you've started therapy, and I'm glad for what you just said about me and Carrie. I don't know what will happen to us, but I'm certain that I would have had to leave if I felt you weren't trying to understand what I'm going through."

"On the other hand, some of what you said about me and Carrie is also true. Having her in my life reminds me that I'm still attractive, that I could leave you and not have to be alone for the rest of my days. Being with her sexually eases a little of the pain of thinking about you and Eddie together."

"And the connection I feel with her does inevitably affect the connection I feel with you." (I was thinking of Kristin at that moment, though I didn't say that to Marianne.) "It would be a lie to say it didn't make any difference—just as I pressed you to admit that your connection with Eddie affected your relationship with me."

"I relax with Carrie. We don't just go to bed together; we also talk, and cook dinner, and snuggle. A big part of my need for closeness to another person is being satisfied there. So of course that means that my need for you is less."

"Right now I think that's a good thing, a necessary thing—because I'm still so hurt and angry at you. There's no way you could fill that need for me, no way I could let you. But let's face it, Marianne—you had that emotional closeness with Eddie, for MONTHS, and it meant you weren't as close with me. A piece of your heart wasn't mine, it was his."

Not surprisingly, Marianne was crying again, softly. "I never loved him, Tom. I swear to you. It was never like that."

"You may think I'm an even worse monster when I say this—but I would come home from ... seeing him, and I would be loving you and looking forward to seeing you, to making love with you."

"I didn't feel, 'wow, this is fun, I'm fooling my husband, look what I'm getting away with'. It was more like 'wow, that felt good'—like it was a massage or something, a good workout at the gym!—'and now I can hardly wait to be back with my loving husband'. Is that utterly sick? I don't know."

"In some way I don't understand, I separated the affair into a completely different category. I stepped into it out of my life, then stepped out of it back into my life. Maybe that makes me sound more like a typical man, who supposedly can separate sex from love. Maybe it means I'm totally screwed-up, Tom, I don't know." She was speaking quickly, almost desperately.

"But whatever it means about me, what I'm telling you is the truth."

We sat in silence for a few minutes.

"Do you love me, Tom?" Marianne asked the question quietly, without looking at me.

"Yes I do, Marianne. That's what makes this tough. If I didn't love you, and if not for the kids, it would have been easy to walk away. Very painful, but easy."

"But I do love you, and I want our happy marriage back. The one that was full of love and trust, where we shared everything."

"Of course, the trouble is that every time I think that, I realize that I can NEVER have that marriage back—the best I can possibly hope for is some half-way version of that. And then I'm filled with anger at you, for taking that happy marriage away from me."

"I know that, Tom," she said. "And even I don't see how you can ever forgive me. I can't imagine how I could ever forgive you, if it were the other way around."

We were silent for another few minutes. Then I said, "I'm going to go, Marianne. Thank you for dinner. I'll talk to you soon."

I reached over to squeeze her hand, and she gave me a sad, brave smile.


The next day at lunch time I went to the house and checked the recorders that were still hidden in the attic. I brought the recordings back to my apartment and went through them that evening, wondering if I would find anything awful. I recalled what the arms-control negotiators used to say, "Trust but Verify". It made me laugh—I didn't trust at all, so I really had to verify!

To my relief, the recordings were all routine. I heard Marianne making phone calls related to her work, or talking to her parents or Andrea on the phone. There were a couple of calls to her therapist, Dr. Brenner, about scheduling appointments. There didn't seem to have been any visitors to the house.

On the bedroom recorder I found the phone call from Eddie that Marianne had mentioned to me. It was brief, and just as she had described it.

"Hello? ... Eddie—why are you calling? ... No, listen to me. We're finished, and I don't want to talk to you again. ... No, stop! I'm sorry you called me, and I have no intention of seeing you or talking to you again. Is that clear? ... No! If you call me again, I'm simply going to hang up on you. Goodbye, Eddie!"

I heard the phone put down firmly, and then after a moment Marianne's voice talking to herself. "Damn!" she said. "Damn, damn, damn." And then after another moment, "what the HELL was I thinking?"

Two days later Marianne called to tell me there had been two more calls from Eddie. "I hung up on him, Tom, but I don't like him bothering me," she said. She sounded upset. I said I'd be over right after work.

When I got there, I said immediately, "Marianne, it's time for me to know a few things about Eddie. I thought that he was the least of our problems, but I was wrong."

"I'll tell you whatever you want to know, Tom," she said right away.

"Okay: what's his full name, where does he live, where does he work?"

"His name is Eddie Carlson. He has an apartment in the building on 14th and Haven—it's an six-story building, and his apartment is on the fourth floor. He works as the manager of a One-Hour Photo Shop called Collier's, in the mall downtown."

"How was he able to get away to meet you in the middle of the day so easily?" I asked her.

"He always has at least one other person in the store—an assistant manager or a clerk who can handle things."

"All right, Marianne. Please leave him a message tomorrow at home, during the day. Tell him you want him to stop calling the house, and you'll meet him the next day at 12 noon at Bisconte's. It's a bar at 9th and Stevenson."

She looked troubled. "Why do you want me to do this, Tom? I don't want to see him again, ever!"

"Trust me—after that we won't have any problem with Eddie. I'm going to be there too." And I explained what I had in mind.

Two days later, we were both at Bisconte's at 12. Marianne sat in a booth, while I was about 30 feet away, sitting at the bar. When Eddie came in he went straight to Marianne and tried to kiss her—but she rebuffed the kiss, and he sat down across from her in the booth. I got up and strolled over to them. As I approached I heard him say, "Anni, it's so terrific to see you again! I've been..." Then he looked up and saw me.

Marianne got up from the booth, and I smoothly slid into the seat where she had been, across from Eddie. "Eddie, this is my husband Tom. He has a few things to say to you." Without another word, Marianne went and sat at the bar.

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