tagLoving WivesHouse of Cards Ch. 10

House of Cards Ch. 10

byohio©

FINAL CHAPTER—Scenes from a Troubled Marriage

The next two weeks of August went by quickly, uneventfully. Marianne and I spoke at least every other day. Sometimes we had brief, routine phone calls; at other times I went home for dinner, or she came to my apartment, and we continued our painful conversations. We also resumed our habit of running together in the mornings. I would drive over two or three times a week, we'd run together, then shower (one at time) and have breakfast together. It was pleasant, and we found we were able to talk about routine things—mostly the kids, and our work—without stirring up unhappy emotions.

She mentioned in passing that her therapy was helping her a lot, but she didn't seem ready to tell me the details, so I didn't press her. Without much discussion of it, she assumed that I was still seeing Carrie regularly, and I let her continue to believe that. In fact, I thought often of Kristin. Once in a great while I imagined a long-term relationship with her. More often, realizing that that was simply a fantasy, I just allowed myself to relive and enjoy our time together. She had done so much to start me healing, and I hoped I had helped her even half as much.

Without a word to Marianne, I continued to check the recorders in the house every couple of days. There was never anything that worried me, just routine calls about work or to family members. Someday I hoped I could take the recorders out, but I wasn't ready to do that yet.

On the last Wednesday in August, I asked Marianne if we could have a talk after our morning run the next day—did she need to rush into work? She said no, and we both left the morning open.

When we'd both showered and were sitting over our eggs and coffee, I said, "Marianne, we've got to pick up the kids on Sunday, so I'd like to talk about living arrangements." She nodded at me to continue, looking serious.

"Here's what I'm thinking," I went on. "I'd like to move back home, for several reasons. But I want to make clear to you what that step means for me, and what it doesn't. And I want to give you a chance to tell me your feelings too."

She gave me a cautious but excited smile. "Tom, I'll be ... I'll be so very glad when you're back home."

I went ahead. "I don't want to be away from the kids, sitting alone in an apartment and wondering why I'm not with them. Also, I don't want to scare them unnecessarily. If you and I end up divorcing, they'll have to face that—but in the meantime I'd like to act as if things are okay between us."

"But my moving back in doesn't mean that things are all fine now, as you must know too. We haven't made love since ... I found out, and I'm not ready to sleep with you in our bedroom." She looked stricken, but just nodded.

"So I thought I'd move their Nintendo stuff to the living room and put my computer and work things into the guestroom. There's already the single bed in there. I can tell them that my work schedule has changed, that I have a lot of projects I need to work on late at night, and that I would be sleeping in the guest room a lot so I won't bother you."

She nodded again. "That seems OK, Tom. I think they'll believe that without thinking about it too much."

"All right. I'll move my things back in over the next couple of days, so the house will be all set before Sunday." I enjoyed seeing that Marianne continued to smile at me. Then her smile suddenly faltered. "Tom, what does this ... what does your moving back home mean about ... you and Carrie?"

"I'm still seeing her, Marianne. But I would never bring her here. She and I will just arrange to see one another during the day from time to time." Again, I wondered about the wisdom of extending my fictional affair, and whether it was time to tell Marianne the truth.

There's no blueprint for how to be a husband whose wife has cheated—just like there's no blueprint for how to be a good husband, or a good father. You just have to try your best, each moment, to do what seems like the best thing to do. And for now it seemed like the best thing to continue my "affair" with Carrie. I would find the right time to tell Marianne the whole story.

**********

Our trip up to camp to get the kids was pleasant, and our reunion with them was very emotional. We had both missed them like crazy—probably more than they had missed us—and the threat that our marriage was under surely made us even more glad just to see them both, hug them, and hear their stories about sailing and new friends and overnight camping trips.

After we got back home and unloaded their stuff, they raced into the guest room, looking for their video games. I followed, and very casually explained about my new work schedule, and that the Nintendo was now in the living room. Without the slightest hesitation, they headed back down the hall. This new arrangement wasn't going to bother them any!

Our first few weeks of the new school year were sweet. Marianne and I reveled in the pleasure of being a family again. Not only had we missed the kids, but our roles as father and mother were much less affected by her affair than those of husband and wife. It was easy and natural to be parents together much as we had before, without constantly tripping over gaping emotional wounds.

But our life as a couple was still hard. Though routine activities were often very pleasant, anything that had to do with emotional or sexual intimacy felt like a mine-field. The slightest false step would bring the pain right to the surface. Even if Marianne cooked a specially nice meal, or dressed in an outfit I loved, or seemed extra-considerate, I wondered if her actions were about pleasing and loving me, or just about trying to make up for her guilt.

One day Marianne grabbed my hand and brought it to her mouth to kiss the back of it, as she had done so many times in the past. All I could do was wince, recalling how she had done that the day of our trip to Forbes Lake—the day I'd confronted her about the thong panties and she'd lied to my face.

It seemed that there were dozens of those painful moments, and that time wasn't doing much to make them fewer or easier to take. I decided to have a conversation with Marianne that I'd been thinking about for quite a while.

**********

I picked a Sunday when both the kids would be gone for the day with friends, and I asked Marianne if we could take a picnic up to Forbes Lake for the afternoon. She looked at me in surprise—we hadn't been there all summer, since the first day I knew of her affair. She must have realized right away I had something serious in mind.

"OK, Tom," she said hesitantly. She saw me smile, and I said, "I thought it would be a good place for a talk." This made her even more nervous, but she agreed to go.

When we got to the lake we spread out our blanket and had our lunch, talking about nothing much. Marianne was waiting for some kind of bomb to drop, and she was clearly uneasy. Finally she said, "I know something big is coming, Tom. Can you just tell me? This is too hard, the waiting."

"Okay," I said. "Here it is. Ever since I found out about your affair, I've been angry that our marriage as I knew and loved it was gone forever. I wanted it back—the easy trust we had with one another, the intimacy of being one another's only lovers—but I knew I could never have it back."

"Well, I'm not done grieving, but I have accepted the fact that that marriage is dead. The marriage that you and I used to have is dead. Our only choices now are to have a different marriage, or to have no marriage at all."

She looked at me very seriously. She could tell this wasn't a "goodbye, I'm leaving" speech, but she didn't know yet where I was headed.

"It's almost like it was when my mother died, Marianne, back when I was in college. I cried, I grieved, I wanted her back. I wanted my life to be what it was before she got sick. But of course that couldn't happen. And eventually I found ways to have a life that was still full of happiness—but a life without her."

"Our old marriage is dead in just the same way. I cannot look at you and see the faithful wife I had for sixteen years, the woman who has never lied to me about anything. And you cannot look at me and see a man who has been faithful to you, either." I thought of Kristin, knowing at the same time that Marianne was thinking about Carrie.

"I want us to be together. I want to be married to you. I want to make love with you again. But it's going to be different, and probably painful at first. When we make love, we won't have the joy of sharing an intimacy that has only been for each other. The other people we've been close to, and had sex with, are going to be there in the room with us."

"When I kiss you or touch you, when I'm inside you, I'm going to hear the words and sounds you made with Eddie, and see in my mind the things I know you did with him. That's no fun, but that's the reality. And I know you will face some of that too." I looked away from her, gazing out over the lake.

"But the only way forward that I can see is to make love anyway—and to be married anyway. We'll either succeed in our new marriage or we won't. But our old marriage is gone. It's as dead as my mother."

There was silence. Marianne had tears on her face. I imagine part of what she was feeling was "yes, our old marriage is dead, and I'm the one who killed it". I hadn't said that, but it was clear to both of us.

"Tom, I know that you're right. Dr. Brenner and I have talked about this same issue, though not in the same words. It feels desperately hard to let go of that 'old marriage', as you put it—especially knowing that I'm the cause of our losing it." She mopped her tears.

"I guess I've still been clinging to hopes—fantasies really—that somehow or someday we could get that trust back. But I see that you're right. What do you want me to do?"

I looked at her, with a little smile. "Three things for us both to do, I think. The first is that we should stop pretending. I think we both dance around all the sensitive subjects, all the painful moments, in the hope that if we don't notice them they'll disappear, but it doesn't work. When you grabbed my hand and kissed the back of it the other day, as you sometimes used to do, it reminded me that you did it our last time here at the lake—the day I knew about your affair. And it hurt like crazy!"

I saw her look of surprise and sorrow, then she nodded her head. I went on. "But we're just going to have to deal with that. I suppose I'll have to simply say, 'I remember the last time you did that—it was at Forbes Lake, in July.' And then we'll both know. And something will change—maybe you'll give up that gesture and find a different one. Or you'll do that same old gesture with a particular look towards me that says, 'yes, we both know why this gesture hurts, but it also conveys my love to you, and we both understand why I'm doing it anyway'."

Marianne nodded, and then asked, "what are the other two things, Tom?"

"One of them is that I want us to make love again. I'm afraid it will be weird, even awful perhaps at first, though I hope not. But I want us to start."

She smiled at me almost shyly, and said "I really want that too. I miss being with you that way—very much!"

"And the last thing is that I want us to go away for a week—maybe in October? We can ask your parents to stay in the house and be with the kids. They always love to do that. I'd like us to go somewhere nice, warm, with a beach, and somewhere we've never been before."

"And I want you to buy some new clothes. New clothes to wear during the day and for the evening, some new swimsuits, and especially new nighties and lingerie. I don't want to be reminded of previous vacations. Let's try to make some nice new memories."

"I love the idea, Tom!" Marianne's wet eyes were shining, now with happiness. "I feel like you're offering me more than I deserve—a lot more, and I'm not going to turn it down! Let me check at the office about everyone's schedule, and we can pick the week right away. I certainly won't refuse the chance for some shopping, either!"

Then she looked at me more seriously, and said, "but you haven't said anything in all this about your anger, honey. We both know you're still angry—there are moments when it almost rolls off you, like a wave. It's frightening."

"Yes, you're right. I still have those moments, and I probably will for a long time—though I think they're getting less frequent. There is actually one more small thing I need to say, Marianne."

I looked right at her. "You may feel this is totally unnecessary, but I need to say it for ME, if not for you. I'm struggling to learn to trust you again. In the best set of circumstances, it will take awhile. But if you ever betray my trust again, even once—if you ever cheat on me again, or lie to me—we are done." I began to tremble a little, feeling my rage surge inside me. "I'll be out the door without a word, and I won't be back to give you a chance to explain things to me."

"People say 'once a cheater, always a cheater'. I don't know if that's true. I hope it's not true of you. But if it is ... well, I hope I've made clear how I feel about that."

I sat still a moment, letting the anger recede again, and I sighed. Then I said, "I just needed to say that to you. Sorry."

Marianne slid over to me, slowly, and took my hand, watching my face to make sure that was all right with me. Then she said, "I owe you complete honesty and faithfulness. And I failed you once—big time. But I will NOT make that mistake again, if you stay with me. And I will do whatever I can, whatever you ask, to earn back your trust in me."

"You don't have to say 'sorry' to me, Tom. All you are really asking for is what you should have had from me all along."

We sat there for another few minutes, quietly, Marianne holding my hand. Then I said to her, "I was thinking about swimming across the lake and back. But if we got in the car and went home now, we'd have a couple of hours of privacy before the kids got home."

Marianne smiled and said, "I vote for the privacy!"

**********

Making love with Marianne, that Sunday afternoon in September in our bedroom, was both wonderful and strange. We did everything very slowly, very consciously, as if saying to each other, "yes, we remember what has happened, the infidelity, the specter of other lovers in the room, but we're going to enjoy this anyway".

We both seemed to feel that we shouldn't rush, so our foreplay lasted a long time. There were many painful moments for me—images of Marianne and Eddie were there in my mind, and I had to see past them, not ignore them. The worst for me was when she lay open for me, smiling and aroused, on her back, and I was poised above her to enter her. She had been like this with him, open, excited, smiling, eager for him to fuck her.

It took my breath away, and I hesitated for a moment. Marianne's smile slipped, as she saw my unhappiness. But I had no choice but to go on—this is my new marriage, I said to myself. I tried to smile back, and then we both sighed with the pleasure as I slid inside her hot wetness. She was very ready, and it felt good.

Our coupling was as slow as our foreplay. I wanted to be conscious of every moment and every feeling. I kept changing my pace and depth, moving my hips in different ways, speeding up and slowing down. All the time we looked at each other, trying I think to reassure each other: "yes, this is YOU I'm here with, this is YOU I want to be doing this with!".

Finally I let more of my weight down on Marianne, burying my face in her neck, and stroked more rapidly and forcefully, allowing the pleasure and the mounting need for a release to take me over. I felt her hands clutching my shoulders, heard her rhythmic gasps with each stroke, and I came into her with a shudder.

After a minute I slid off her, to one side, and we lay on our sides, holding one another and looking at each other. No smiling now—the moment felt very serious. This had been about as far from our playful, carefree love-making of the old days as anything could possibly be. It felt much more like a ritual, some rite of passage that contained its share of pain. If that sounds mystical, so be it—that's how it felt.

Not smiling, Marianne put one hand on my cheek and said, "thank you, Tom. I love you very much." "I love you too," I said. Then we held one another, and we both cried.

**********

The weekend after we first made love again, we had Steve and Andrea over for a Saturday cookout. It was the first time the four of us had been together since I found out about Marianne's affair. I'd seen Steve and Andrea several times, and Marianne once or twice; but I think she had felt too ashamed to relish the idea of us all socializing again.

And it was tense, for the first few minutes. I think we all understood that the ground rules were "no talking about Tom and Marianne's marriage". So we talked about trivial things at first, until our sense of pleasure in one another's company took over. These were two of our favorite people. They'd known us a long time, and cared for both of us. They were funny and smart. We laughed a lot and had a good time. I even noticed that Steve was developing a fondness for Ringnes, my new favorite beer!

At one point the women went inside to see to dessert and Steve said to me quietly, "things seem better, Tom." I nodded. "A long way to go, but we're making progress. Let me thank you and Andrea again, Steve, for the umpteenth time. You guys have been terrific. You've been there for me, true friends, but without cutting Marianne out of the picture. Thank you so much."

He looked a little embarrassed at my sentiment, and joking said, "like they say, 'What are Friends For'?"

**********

Over the next few weeks we gradually returned to regular sex. It wasn't that great, to tell the truth. We were still both very serious, careful, as self-conscious as two people doing a love-making instructional video. We gave each other pleasure, we had orgasms, we enjoyed it—but we didn't come close to finding the uninhibited joy we had once taken in each other.

Partly there must have been images of Carrie in Marianne's mind, but most of all I think Marianne and I were both afraid of the same thing: my anger. It was in bed that my rage about her affair was most acute; and though I never acted on those feelings they were often present. If she took my cock in her mouth, I heard her saying to Eddie "God, it's so big, and so hard, and so beautiful! Let me suck on it", and my fists clenched.

If I was going down on her, enjoying her groans and her hip motions as she urged me onward, I heard her saying "Oh, Eddie, nobody does me like you do!"

If I slid into her, in the missionary position or from behind, my favorite, I could hear her eagerly say to him "I want your beautiful dick inside me." And I had to endure it, I had to carry on. Because the alternative was to yank my own dick out of her and stalk out of the room.

One night after we had made love I was lying on my back, propped up against the pillows, staring out at nothing. Marianne looked at me and said, "Tom. I am so very sorry for the things you heard me say to Eddie. I can apologize for the rest of my life, and I know it will never be enough. But YOU are the best lover I have ever had. It's YOUR arms I want around me, your body I want next to mine, and your beautiful penis I want inside me. I am just so, so sorry...."

She stopped talking, and snuggled up against me. I held her, stroking her back. Some things just can't be dealt with in words.

**********

In mid-October Marianne and I took our weeklong trip, to St. Thomas in the Caribbean. She had bought a lot of new clothes. I hoped that the new things included some new lingerie, because I loved the sight of her in slinky or transparent or just too-short nightwear; but she kept her new purchases safely hidden until we got to the island.

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