“Congratulations on your engagement,” the text flashed across my phone.
It was the first I had heard from him in years, besides the countless scenarios in my head where he’d speak to me and beg me to come back. I wish it was an exaggeration to tell you that I thought about him every day. I wish it weren't true that the moment my fiancé, *Paul, slipped that diamond on my finger, I immediately started mourning the loss of the only true love I’d known: *Bryce.
“Who’s that, babe?” Paul asked as he cut into his steak.
We were out to dinner to celebrate something. It may have even been to acknowledge the fact that in less than a year, we’d be bound together by marriage. We would take an oath in front my father, a pastor, and before God to never abandon one another or forsake our vows until death would part us forever.
I looked across the table at the face I promised to love for the rest of my days and immediately regretted giving up on our no-phone policy at dinner.
“It’s just an old friend who must have heard about our engagement and wants to wish us well,” I managed to muffle through a voice so shaken with shock, I could barely make out the words.
Why was Bryce contacting me? Why now? Was he seriously happy for the life I had chosen with Paul that would forever keep me out of his?
As confused about the motive as I was, inside I was beaming. As long as there was contact being made, I didn’t care about anything but the fact that if he was making the effort, I was in his thoughts at least some of the time.
This is where everything started to spiral. Up or down? I’m still not sure. All I know is, from the moment that text hit my phone, I made the worst decisions that led to some of the best moments of my life.
I met Paul at my friend Melissa’s wedding. He was conveniently assigned to the chair next to mine. I found out later that “we” were planned all along. Conversation flowed, and so did the wine. Before we knew it, we were involved in a kind of sliding that could easily be considered electric.
A year and a half passed. He was everything my parents wanted for me with his clean-cut looks and dedicated nature. Paul’s the exact opposite of everything I am, which is the exact reason I married him. He gave my life the security I was in desperate need of.
The day we got married, there were 40-mile-an-hour winds, a monsoon rainstorm, and all I could think about was Bryce. It was the 13th of March and all the unlucky omens associated with that number seemed to conspire against me making me second-guess my disbelief in superstitions. Paul looked so handsome and happy despite the one-hour drive in the downpour he traveled in to get to me. I was the love of his life and it showed.
“You’re so beautiful,” he whispered through the air as I walked down the aisle toward him and married the greatest man I’d never love.
Six months later, I became the liar and cheater and everything in between that I loathed in a person. It became hard to look in the mirror. All the lies consumed me. I cringed at the globs of hair I’d comb out of my scalp every day in the shower.
“Stress can do a lot to you,” my primary care physician noted as she prescribed my first anti-anxiety pills.
The first time I cheated was in early September. I was at my friend’s Stephanie’s wedding that happened to be at the same place Paul and I said our I do’s less than a year prior. She even had her guests reserve rooms at the same hotel we chose, which placed me within a couple short miles of Bryce.
“I’m in your neck of the woods,” I sent in a text. “Come meet me.”
I even told Paul that an ex-coworker was coming to see me and he would be here soon. He left like he knew. It was like my infidelity was hiding in plain sight. Neither of us wanted to confront the elephant in the room.
“Wow, you guys must have some kind of trust,” a new friend acquired by alcohol and dancing said through inebriated words. “I’d never allow that.”
Not even 20 minutes had passed when Bryce drove up.
“Are you sure you want to do this?” he asked.
I lifted my dress in acceptance and consummated the long-lost love I had thought was gone forever, while my husband traveled up to our hotel room alone. Bryce left almost as soon as he came and I fell asleep in the hallway sick with too much wine or too much truth, I wasn’t sure. I told Paul the next morning when he found me on the floor outside our door that I couldn’t find my key and I didn’t want to wake him. I hated myself. But I kept going.
It became an obsession to see Bryce. We had “our motel” where we’d meet halfway in between our homes. I would dress in the best lingerie and make myself up like I’d never done for my husband. Bryce made me feel so beautiful and so ugly all at the same time. I was addicted and in love. Blinded by lust, it seemed clear what I had to do.
One night after work, I walked in to mine and Paul’s brand-new three-bedroom townhouse in suburban Pennsylvania and mumbled the words that fell out of my mouth and broke his heart.
“I don’t love you. I want a divorce. Sorry.”
The look on his face when I closed the door on our marriage and our home for the last time will stay with me forever. He thought I was coming back. I knew I wasn’t.
For the first time in my life, I was alone and supporting myself. I leased an apartment in Philly and bought a second pillow for Bryce. He never even showed up.
“Why did you do this to me? I gave up everything,” I texted.
“Because you have a good pussy?” he replied.
For the next two days, I sobbed alone on my bathroom floor. Every teardrop represented a lie my body needed to purge in order to move on from the monster I had become.
Then, just like that, it was over. I woke up, looked in the mirror and applied cover up to the puffy, red lumps that occupied my eye sockets, and promised myself to never be so dumb again. I called my landlord and told her I wouldn’t be renewing my lease, sold everything I owned and moved to New York City, my first love that wasn’t Bryce, with nothing but four bags of belongings to my name. To many, I had nothing. To me, I finally had it all.
Bryce contacted me one more time after my move. I looked down at my phone at his cowardly attempt to hook me yet again, and ignored him. He was back, but he didn’t get to get me back.
Paul has since moved on. It’s quite evident by the pictures I see plastered in my Facebook newsfeed. Him and his girlfriend in her slinky black dress are happily posed beside the front door of our first home. I’ve seen every bouquet of flowers he’s surprised her with since I’ve moved on and she moved in. I remember when he used to do that for me. I wonder if he writes the same messages on sticky notes telling her to have a good day and that no matter what would happen, she will always have his love.
The night before I moved to New York, Paul took me out to dinner and cried. That was over a year ago and the last time I saw his face. I wish I could say I’m sorry for breaking his heart. I wish I could tell him I’m sure I’ll never find anyone that will treat me as well as he did because history proves I’ve never loved the nice ones.
But what history also tries to prove is that I’m more likely to cheat in the future because of my past. But in my case, all of the betrayals that gave life to the monster inside me are dead and gone. I’ll never do it again.
* indicates a name change because…duh