I knew Ash had cheated on me the moment he got home. Something in the air had changed. It had seeped under my skin and poisoned everything. It took one sweaty night to destroy us. Nothing more, and so I watched all seven of the years we’d spent together fall to the floor around me. I wanted to scream. I wanted to break. I wanted to scrub the noxiousness of it all out of my pores.
He laid out the facts as though he were dictating items for a shopping list. He had no hesitation. No regret. Maybe that hurt more than his infidelity: that he had reduced our history to such an easy confession.
The next day, I woke up. I drank half a cup of coffee. I did whatever was required to extract a salary. I came home, and then the questions I’d been formulating all day tumbled out of my mouth. Who was she? (You know Ingrid–from the video store. The one with the blonde curly hair.) Was it good? (It was fine.) Did he want to end it? (Yes.)
How long had it been going on when did he stoplovingmewhydidn’thejustleaveinsteadofcheating?
I wanted to know every second of it as though building a clear picture of that night would fix everything. It didn’t, but I didn’t stop asking questions.
I tried every sentence in my arsenal to keep him. I said it a hundred times in a hundred different ways as though finding one perfect word would fix everything. Then I went to bed and broke. And broke. And broke.
I moved out.
I tried to become a workaholic.
I scraped the hours off the walls and threw them in the trash with the leftovers.
I fucked a man I met in a shopping mall.
I fucked another.
I learned that throwaway sex made me cry less, so I collected men like postage stamps.
In between, I came up with seven different scenarios for the night he cheated and stapled them to the seven years I thought we’d been in love. I made seven different excuses for his infidelity and hated myself in seven different ways.
Then I learned how to stop being so damned melodramatic. And that’s when he told me he’d made a dire mistake. He asked me to come back home.
Over the months, I had learned that my first love hadn’t been much of a love at all. The earth had opened to me, and I’d seen how very much it had to give. I stopped calling him and began calling the man I’d fallen in love with. The one who bought me tulips. The one who felt like home.