I came stumbling into the house around 8 p.m. from a night out with my girlfriends and almost immediately, upon looking at it, found myself caught up in my old senior Christmas dance picture. I looked so happy in that picture, there was a noticeable glow in my face, framed by thick curly hair. It’s pathetic how typical it all was. The divorce of my parents had ripped apart our family in a way that left me feeling broken. It was my fault. All of it. But senior year it all changed. My parents no longer fought and all the pain from the years past was no longer in the forefront of my mind.
Even though the conflict was finally over, I knew I couldn’t go through it again, I knew I wasn’t going to let my children follow in my footsteps. If I could, I’d spare them the pain that comes with a broken family. That was my goal. The pain of a broken heart, the pain caused by all the lies and secrets, and lack of support, all of that wasn’t going to touch my children. I didn’t want them to grow up fast and take care of themselves while I fought with their dad. I wanted that happy healthy family that looked happy and was happy. I wanted that family that was ruled by both parents and was overflowing with love.
Tears rolled down my cheeks as I sat down in my grandmother’s old rocking chair holding that picture. That picture was no longer the truth. I had been lying to myself, convincing myself that I could protect my children from pain. The reality was that I had to jump into the fire before them. I would have to put up with the misery of a failing relationship, hide it, and live with it just to shelter my children. And I was willing to do that too. Darius, was gone again on another one of his “business trips”. Why did he lie to me when I knew I wasn’t the only woman in his life anymore? Maybe the embarrassment of admitting it was too much for him. His actions made me question why he’d been so willing to destroy our marriage and expose our children to the pain of a broken home. That was the burning question that kept me up at night, that was killing me. Why?
It started with subtle hints. Not calling me back, coming home late, not talking to me as much, and just not wanting to touch me, even in a simple hug. He was reluctant to go on family trips and gave lame excuses that I presented to my children, cleaning them up a bit so they were believable. But the only problem was that our eldest son Aidan, was beginning to see through the facade. His suspicions were confirmed when he found me crying one night. It changed everything, especially how he looked at me. There was anger in his eyes, almost like it was my fault this was happening. I had ruined his happy home.
I walked into the kitchen, the picture still in my hand, and made myself a cup of tea. My hands slowly ran over the cold but smooth table top as memories of our long forgotten family dinners poured into my head. They use to be full of vibrant conversation. Darius’s stories of his days as a youngster always left the children in fits of laughter. I slowly sat in my favorite chair and sipped my tea. I wiped away the tears from my face as I watched the clock secretly hoping that time would go just a little bit faster. Darius was due home soon and I really couldn’t wait for him to be back. I needed to talk to him, tell him I knew, and tell him that I was willing to live with it but that he needed to think about the well being of his children. I had to voice myself instead of just staying quiet and facing the hurt single-handedly.
Little footsteps pattered down the stairs and she rounded the corner rubbing her eye and saying barely in a whisper, “Mommy I’m thirsty…”
I smiled at my little angel, Jayla, and got up to fix her something to drink.
“Now, what would the princess like to drink this lovely evening?”
Jayla grinned at me and said cautiously, “Apple juice?” She must’ve thought I’d get on her case for drinking juice after having already brushed her teeth but I feeling generous and decided to fulfill her request.
I turned the light off in the kitchen after handing her the cup of apple juice. But before she walked up to her room she asked, with an innocent look, “Mommy, when’s daddy coming back?”
I replied kissing the top of her head tenderly “Darling, go back to bed, okay? Daddy will be home when you wake up.”
She smiled at me for reassurance before wishing me a good night and going up to her room to return to her imaginary castle and her role as the head princess.
I was just pleased to see that Jayla was convinced of my answer, and sought out no reason to question me more. I watched her disappear around the corner before making my way into the living room. I made myself comfortable on the couch, sinking deep into the cushions and covering myself with a quilt my mother had made for our 1st anniversary. Then I turned on the television. This was my only hope at speeding up time. The minutes turned into hours before my eyes finally started to droop. I could feel my breathing evening out and found it hard to concentrate on the complicated plot unfolding in front of me.
Suddenly the front door opened and footsteps came quietly creeping into the house. His briefcase was set down next to the door and he put his hat and jacket on the coat rack. Then he slowly walked over to the family room where I was coming in and out of sleep. I heard him turn the television turn off and say my name in a low whisper, “Angela…”
I stretched as I came up off the couch slowly. Then I replied, “I’m glad you’re home…”
He smiled slightly and sat down next to me in silence.
“What’s wrong?” I asked noticing the melancholy look in his eyes.
“Oh nothing,” he started dismissively waving his hand, “I just wanted to see you before I went up to bed, I’m really quite tired.” A moment of silence passed before he added, “The drive was really long. I don’t think I want to go on a trip like that again, too many hours on the road.”
“Well then,” I got up from the couch to stand infront of him, “since you’re so tired we can talk in the morning, okay?”
His brow furrowed as he asked, ”Talk about what?”
“We’ll talk about it in the morning,” I repeated as I turned to go towards the stairs. I was also ready for bed, even if it meant sleeping beside the man that had just spend the last couple days in the arms of another woman.
He stood up and followed me as he exasperatedly said, ”Please don’t tell me you’re pregnant.”
I stopped in my tracks before turning around and folding my arms over my chest in irritation, ”And if I was, why would that be a problem?”
He sighed heavily and paused before answering, “It wouldn’t, I was just thinking that we’re almost done with Aidan and Jayla is already in 2nd grade.”
“Then don’t worry, I’m not pregnant,” I scoffed. Then I harshly whispered, “And anyway, how would I possibly be pregnant? It’s not like you’re ever home.”
“Come on Angela, you know I’ve been busy with work,” he replied frustratedly, “it’s not like I like to be away from my family.”
“Really? You’ve only been busy with work?” I said sarcastically.
He came up right behind me and grabbed my arm to turn me around. I looked into his dark eyes as he questioned, “Angela what the hell are you talking about?”
“I’m not a complete idiot,” I sneered. “I see the guilt in your eyes every time you lie to me Darius. I know.” I turned away from him to to walk up the stairs. But he grabbed my hand and pulled me back to him.
“So you’re saying that just because I haven’t been home that I’m cheating?” He narrowed his eyes in disbelief.
“Don’t deny it, Darius, because I don’t think that ‘just work’ would make you push me away.”
“Why would I do that?” He threw his hands up in defeat. “This is ridiculous.”
I glared at him before spitting back, “You tell me, Darius. Why would you? Tell me what you follow, you brains or
His face suddenly went red in anger and he said louder, almost in a yell, “Angela, why? Why would you do this?”
“Why would I do this?” I scoffed, “don’t you mean why would you do this?”
I stormed into our bedroom and began to undress. My night dress was draped over the dresser. As I reached for it, he grabbed me by the waist and pulled me into his chest. My bare back against him, I felt as he tightly gripped me, his voice trembling by my ear, “I’m so sorry baby. Please, listen to me.”
I pulled away from him quickly slipping the night dress over my head, “I don’t know how you expect to make this better right now Darius. I really don’t want to listen to your lame fucking excuses.”
I looked over at him and the tears in his eyes as he said, “You’re right. I wasn’t thinking, it just happened. I’m so sorry. She came on to me, and I-“
“Couldn’t say no, right? You just had to finish what you started, till… let me guess,” I sarcastically pretended like I was thinking before I continued, “till she broke up with you because she noticed your wedding ring, unless you weren’t wearing it when she hit on you. Or maybe she dumped you for someone younger and richer.”
I shook my head in disgust and walked over to the closet. I could hear him crying behind me, but all sympathy for him had flown out the window a long time ago. Shifting through the blankets, I grabbed a few before taking a pillow from the bed and handing them to him.
“I’ll see you in the morning,” I said sternly.
His mouth dropped in shock. This new me was just that, new. My need to protect was over. He could spend the night on the couch and when our children saw him in the morning and asked, he could tell him why. There was no more room for lies and secrets. We had reached the end of this journey. If we were going to find a way back from the mistakes made I was going to have to remain strong, despite my one weakness, my love for my family and my fear of a repeat of my childhood. I was going to have to do this for us.
He took the blankets and pillow from me. Then he left the room, gently closing the door behind him. I sat on the bed, let out the breath I hadn’t realized I’d been holding, before throwing my head in my hands and crying.