Ellie and I were married 16 years ago. I had spent much of that time waiting for the other shoe to fall, as they say. Ellie had been the prettiest girl I had ever seen. Now she was the most beautiful woman I had ever known. She had been three years behind me in school. She was the homecoming queen, the captain of the basketball team and still held school track records in the 400 and 800 meters.
To say she was popular is like saying that an eagle can fly. It just didn't begin to cover the actual fact. Ellie was a walking wet dream for every male that could draw a breath. The only reason she even knew I existed was that I lived across the street from her, and our parents were friends. That gave me the opportunity to spend time with her from the time she was in grade school.
After high school, I attended a trade school to learn carpentry. I had always been pretty handy, but I wanted to be more than a guy with a hammer. I wanted to know the best way to construct whatever I was going to build. When folks looked at a home I built, I wanted them to be know that it had to be the best.
I started working for myself after I graduated. It was a tough haul for the first few years, but the quality of my work gradually became known. Eventually, I hired a helper and then two. I had work scheduled a year in advance by the time I was 25.
Ellie went to college and earned a degree in accounting. Did I mention that she was almost as smart as she was beautiful? She went to work for a firm that took care of all my taxes and helped manage my business accounts. That was when I finally found the nerve to ask her out.
I'm around six foot tall and still weigh around 185. I never was accused of being a matinee idol. I'm pretty much a regular guy. When Ellie agreed to a date with me, I was quite surprised. I knew she had more suitors than Carter has liver pills. I warned myself that she would go out with me once or twice and then move on. I never did figure out why she kept going out with me and eventually agreed to marry me. I did know I was the luckiest guy on the planet, except for one thing.
I was always waiting for that other shoe to fall. She was beautiful, intelligent, athletic, and very personable. How long would it take for her to realize that she could do better than being with me? Even after she gave me the two most wonderful girls ever born, I still feared that it couldn't last. Jen and Audrey were the perfect daughters, at least in my book.
I did the only thing I could think to do, and that was be the best husband and father I could possibly be. I wasn't a pretty boy and I wasn't a rich guy, but I was dedicated to my family and I hoped my efforts would ward off the forces of evil; the inevitable day when Ellie realized she could do better, and resent me for keeping her from her destiny.
I was in the basement on a Sunday morning, working on finishing an entertainment room that the girls could use when their friends came over. We had a laundry chute that went from a large closet off the kitchen down to the basement. It carried any sounds that emanated from the kitchen area quite clearly to the basement.
I heard the doorbell ring and Ellie answer it. The voices were muffled at first, but as they approached the kitchen, I was able to make them out clearly. Our visitor was Helen Drake, Ellie's best friend.
"I can't stay too long, Ellie. I just had to stop in and ask you if you had heard the news. Do you know who moved back to town?" asked Helen.
"O. J. Simpson?" guessed Ellie. "Elvis? Jimmy Hoffa? Bigfoot? Osama Bin Laden? You will let me know if I am getting close, won't you?"
"Now I don't feel like telling you!" laughed Helen. "Your guesses were all pretty good, but wrong. Do you remember Dan Wilkins?"
"I have heard the name, but I can't remember where," answered Ellie. "I am sure you will help my memory."
"Right! You don't remember where you heard that name?" Helen repeated. "Weren't you yelling it the night you lost your cherry? Didn't you date him for the last two years of high school?"
"Now that you mention it, you could be right," chuckled Ellie. "Was he just over six feet tall with blue eyes and the sexiest smile ever seen on a man? Was he the quarterback on the football team? Did he pitch the baseball team to the state title?"
"I think you have the guy," agreed Helen. "I thought I would be able to jog your memory. He is divorced from that rich bitch he married and has moved back to Westbury to open a law practice. I heard that his hairline has receded a tad, but he still looks pretty good!"
"I'm not surprised he got divorced," replied Ellie. "He always had an eye for the ladies. He was the sports star with the great looks. Women were always flocking to him."
"As I recall, you were flocked a few times yourself, Ellie," laughed Helen. "Does Ted know about you and Dan? How will he take having Dan back in town?"
"He knows that Dan and I dated for a couple years. He knows I wasn't a virgin when he and I started dating after college. We never really asked each other about old flames," admitted Ellie. "It's better to let some things go unmentioned. We don't lie to each other, but we never have asked each other very many questions about the past."
"I wish Stan was like that. He hasn't stopped asking me about old boyfriends since we've been married," complained Helen. "Sometimes he seems jealous and other times he seems to get turned on when I tell him stuff. Now and then I wonder if he is one of those weird guys that wants to watch or something."
"I don't think he'd watch very long before he dug out one of his guns, Helen," Ellie cautioned. "Don't mistake a little curiosity and titillation for wanting you to have a boyfriend. I know Stan and he is from the old school. Shit would hit the fan, big time, if you ever tried it."
"How about you, Ellie?" Helen redirected the conversation. "What happens when you come face to face with Dan? How will you act? Will you hug him, shake his hand, pretend you don't know him, or go to bed with him?"
"I think I would either shake his hand or give him a hug. I haven't seen the guy in almost twenty years. He may not be too impressed with how I've changed over the years," suggested Ellie.
"Yes, you could be right about that," Helen replied sarcastically. "You've gone up a bra size, kept the same size waist, haven't developed a single wrinkle, and your tits still defy gravity! Dan will be so glad he didn't marry you."
That was the last I heard of the conversation as the two women were apparently walking to the front door. I sat down and contemplated what I had heard. I knew Ellie wasn't a virgin when we began dating, and I even suspected that Dan Wilkins was the lucky fellow that had claimed that prize. Now I knew it to be fact and that troubled me for some reason. I was happier not knowing for certain about the men she had slept with.
I also realized that my fear now had a face and a name. Rumor had it that Dan Wilkins was a high-powered corporate lawyer. He had married into a prominent family in Rhode Island and was the poster boy for the "local boy moves on to much bigger and better things" small town propaganda machine. He had become a bit of a local celebrity by doing well and staying away from his roots.
Now he was returning to Westbury to open a law practice. Combine that with being single again and I knew my Waterloo was approaching. I had never been an athlete or a scholar. They never gave out many awards for hard work. It isn't eye catching or even popular. Even though I had always expected something like this to happen, I had no plan to prevent it. Dan was everything I wasn't. You can't change human nature. In the end, I decided to do the only thing I knew, and that was to redouble my effort to be the best husband and father I could. It wasn't much of a plan, but it was all I could come up with.
A short while later, I went upstairs for a soda. Ellie was working in the kitchen.
"Did I hear someone talking with you earlier?" I asked.
"Helen stopped in to chat for a few minutes," admitted Ellie. "She didn't stay long."
There was no mention of the arrival of the studly Dan Wilkins to our town. I considered that omission as I went back to work in the basement. It was big news to Helen and Ellie, yet she never bothered telling me. She wasn't comfortable discussing her first lover, or his return. I had a bad feeling about the guy.
The next couple of weeks were uneventful. I spent every chance I had being a caring dad to my girls and husband to Ellie. I think she wondered about my attentive behavior, but never voiced any suspicions. I worked really hard at being a great lover for her. I made sure she would have a couple orgasms before I even considered finishing. I took her to dinner and took her shopping. If things went south, I wanted to be able to tell myself I had done my best.
Then things began to unravel. Ellie was the chairperson for the local hospital auxiliary. They held events to raise funds for equipment needed to keep our hospital state-of-the-art. She held the position for a few years and did a great job with it. The auxiliary had several fundraisers throughout the year. It was the standard practice to get a local businessman to co-chair an event.
Somehow, I wasn't surprised when Ellie told me that the auxiliary had asked Dan Wilkins to co-chair Casino Night, which was held every spring. I was even less surprised to find out that he had agreed. He would be working closely with Ellie for a few weeks as they put the event together.
I struggled to hide my fear and depression. I debated whether I should make a stand, or try to pretend it was no big deal. I was wracked with indecision, so I said nothing to Ellie. Then one night, before dinner, it came to a head.
"Ted, you have been very quiet lately," observed Ellie. "Are you feeling okay? Is there anything wrong at work? Is there something you want to tell me?"
She was like that. I never could hide much of anything from Ellie. She seemed to know me better than I knew myself.
"I am just a little depressed about the upcoming fundraiser you will be working on," I answered. "You get so busy that I hardly see you for weeks. It would be nice if someone else did it this time. You have done way more than your share for the auxiliary."
"I always thought you were proud of my work for the hospital," replied Ellie. "Do you want me to resign, Ted? If you say the word, I will quit tomorrow."
"It's not that I want you to quit," I faltered. "It's just that you do so much and the girls and I don't see much of you for a month or more. Couldn't you let someone else chair this event?"
"Is it this event that worries you, Ted?" asked Ellie. "Or does it have something to do with Dan Wilkins working with me on this event?"
"I'm just trying to tell you that I like to have you home with me. I know he's an important lawyer and a big success. He was the star jock and the big Romeo, and probably still is," I continued. "He's single and good with the ladies from what I hear. I would like it better if you weren't around him."
I said the very thing I had promised myself I wouldn't say! I admitted I was worried about that damn guy.
"Ted! You are afraid I will take up with Dan, aren't you?" gasped Ellie. "That was a long time ago, Ted! I am your wife now. We have two daughters together. I am not going to switch horses in midstream."
Somehow, that didn't allay my fears! Ellie seemed to be saying she was stuck with me and would make the best of the hand she was dealt. I felt like I was the goddamn joker in the deck and she had drawn me. The next step was the discard pile.
I felt anger and fear as my face flushed and my hands clenched. I turned around and left the room before I said something even dumber, or started bawling like a baby. I was just beginning to realize how much the situation worried me. I decided to hop in my pickup and go for a ride. That always helped me relax and think things through. As I was climbing into the truck I heard Ellie calling to me, but I pretended I didn't. I drove down the road.
I was back in half an hour. I knew that if I didn't show for dinner, the girls would be worried. There was no reason for my insecurities to affect them.
Dinner was a little strained, but the girls were chatting so much that they didn't seem to notice how quiet Ellie and I were. We cleaned up and watched TV for an hour. Then the girls went to their rooms to do their homework.
"Ted, would you tell me what you want me to do about this fundraiser?" Ellie quietly asked as she slid closer to me. "I don't have any problem working with Dan, but if it bothers you, I will drop out, or get him to resign or something."
"Sweetheart, I hate being such a jerk, but he worries me. He worries me a lot. I know you dated him for a couple years and you two were close. I know you are a wonderful wife and mother," I added. "The problem is that he is better looking, better off financially, cooler with the ladies, in fact, he has me beat hands down in everything. You are so beautiful, Ellie, that you can have any man you want. You'll want something better than a guy like me, and who can blame you?"
She just stared at me like I had grown a frog on my nose. I was uncomfortable telling her my fears and I was worried how she would react.
"Ted Rigby!" she admonished. "How can you even say something like that? I can't believe you could think that was true."
I didn't know how to respond, so I just kept quiet. My thoughts were all jumbled up and I didn't know what to think.
"You must be the dumbest, blindest man on the whole planet!" she continued. "There isn't a woman that knows you that wouldn't trade places with me in a heartbeat. You are handsome, strong, kind, hard working, and a devoted husband and father. The girls adore you, and quite honestly, so do I. I bet our finances surpass Dan's by double, and that is mostly because you are such a good carpenter and I am your business manager. You are too soft to be real good in the business end, but that is a good thing, Ted. You are kind and sensitive to people and their problems."
"I never dreamed you thought I could ever leave you for another man!" Ellie admitted. "To be honest, I am the one that should be worried. I hit the mother-lode when I got you."
I just pulled Ellie to me and hugged her till my eyes dried. She said all the things I needed to hear. I felt like the weight of the world had been lifted from my shoulders.
"I am so sorry for being such a jerk," I finally managed. "You do what you have to for the fundraiser. I will be fine with it."
We went to bed early and stayed up late that night! I felt like a teen again and I couldn't get enough of Ellie. I did everything a man could do to please a woman and a few things never before considered by civilized man. She slept in my arms and I felt great.
Have you ever noticed that the words you share at night and believe with your entire heart and soul begin to sound a little empty in the light of day? I had opened the door and could have gotten Ellie to remove herself from the damn fundraiser, but she got all romantic and dished out compliments until my head was turned. The nagging doubts were back the next day. You can't live with a feeling for 16 years and have it explained away in five minutes.
Over the next couple weeks, Ellie was gone to meetings quite often. The girls and I had gone through it before, but it had never been so painful to me. The idea of her with that slick Wilkins irritated me no end. I really tried to act normal, but I knew Ellie was picking up on my insecurities. Our conversations became slightly strained. She was working hard and was not getting enough rest. I hadn't had a good night's sleep in weeks. We were stressed to the max.
I wasn't sure if it was my imagination, but it seemed as though she spent more time on this fundraiser than any of the preceding ones. I caught her talking quietly on the phone a few times. To a man already paranoid, these were all bad signals. Our sex life disappeared. I just tried to hang on till Casino Night was in the rear view mirror.
The afternoon before the big fundraiser I had promised to pick up Ellie at the community center where she and her committee were decorating and doing last minute preparations. First, I was supposed to pick the girls up after track practice and swing by to get Ellie. She had gone with Helen that morning. They had to shop for a few last minute items for door prizes.
The girls called me to tell me that practice had been called off. It had been raining hard since the previous night. Because of the rain and the melting snow pack, flood warnings had been posted. With track practice canceled, I was over an hour early at the community center to pick up Ellie.
I told the girls to wait in the car while I went in to see if their mother was ready to leave, or if I should return later to pick her up. I entered the main reception room and ran into Helen.
"Can you tell me where Ellie is?" I asked. "I'm a little early and I want to tell her I can come back later if she wants."
"I haven't seen her lately, but she is probably in the office getting all the games and tickets ready, Ted," responded Helen. "Want me to look for her?"
I told Helen I would just go find her myself and she should continue with her decorating. I went to the office and tried the door gently. It was locked! That was enough to take my insecurities to the next level. Why would they lock anyone out?
I quickly surveyed the door. It was one of those cheap pre-hung doors. I refused to use them in the homes I built. I knew they were not made to withstand any sort of heavy impact. I backed up a few steps and smashed the door with my shoulder. The jamb gave easily and the door flew open.
I saw Dan Wilkins for the first time since he had returned to Westbury. He had Ellie bent over a desk and had his cock buried to the hilt in her pussy.
"Ted!" gasped Ellie.
I didn't wait for another word. I turned around stalked across the main room. I could barely see where I was going. My hands were shaking and my stomach hurt. All I could think of was getting as far away as fast as I could. I sensed that distance would somehow lessen the pain. Helen started to say something as I went by her, but the look on my face silenced her. She turned to look toward the office as I passed her.
When the girls asked if their mother was coming with us, I was barely able to croak a negative reply as I started the car and drove away in the rain. The weather was perfect for my mood. As we approached our street, I noticed the stream was boiling over the top of the small bridge that spanned it. Always a cautious man, even in the throes of depression unlike any I had ever known; I stopped the car to check the situation first hand. To my surprise, and horror, I realized the bridge was actually gone! I almost drove into the raging stream with my two girls. My knees started shaking as I realized how close I had come to extreme danger and possibly death.
I trudged back through the rain to the car and turned it around. I was torn between blocking the road so no one drove into the stream, and getting home with the girls. I had seen a police car by a flooded intersection a half-mile back and decided to report the situation to him. Then I would circle around to another road that didn't have to cross the stream. The cop could get someone to put up a barricade.
As I drove, I realized I was extremely hurt and disappointed, but not surprised by Ellie's betrayal. By expecting it for so many years, I may have created the very problem I feared. It always worked that way in the old "Outer Limits" and "Twilight Zone" shows. Now I was the guy wondering if it was all a dream, or perhaps a nightmare.
When I stopped on a side street to explain the situation to the policeman, I saw a red BMW shoot past and turn down my street! I knew I should have blocked the road! I gave the cop the short version of the situation and jumped back in the car.
"That looked like Mr. Wilkins' car," volunteered my older daughter, Jen. "I hope he doesn't try to cross that bridge!"
I had a smile cross my face for an instant. Let him ruin his goddamn fancy car, and get good and wet. Then I realized he would have Ellie with him. As much as her cheating had hurt me, I had no desire to see her in danger. I gunned the accelerator in an attempt to catch Wilkins. I was almost half a mile behind them when I saw the car plunge into the stream where the bridge had been a short time before. Jen shrieked as we saw the front of the car disappear and the tail end bob up and down.
As we approached the scene, I saw Wilkins climb on the roof of the car. The waters were swirling around it and getting higher every second. Water was pouring in the window as Eleanor began to claw her way out the very window Wilkins had just used. The girls and I were out of reach and watched helplessly as Wilkins looked at Eleanor climbing out the window, then he turned and jumped for the buttress that remained from the washed bridge. He caught the edge and pulled himself out of the water. Ellie was now on the roof of the car but it started floating downstream!
The girls and I watched in horror as she tumbled into the floodwaters and disappeared. I threw my coat off and jumped in after her. It was unbelievably cold. I felt numb by the time I resurfaced. Downstream was the only direction Ellie could have gone, so I started swimming as well as I could. It seemed forever, but it was probably only a minute or so when I spotted her bobbing on the current.
It took all my strength but I managed to catch up to her. She was having a bad time of it. I wasn't sure if she was conscious until I felt her grab my arm. We were swept downstream like a couple of twigs. Then I saw some men standing on the next bridge! They were gesturing to me and one was lying under the rail, over the side of the bridge. He was reaching down, holding his hands as close to the water as he could.
I was able to touch ground every few seconds and I pushed Ellie in the guy's direction. It wasn't easy but I lined our path up with the Samaritan on the bridge. The thing was, he would never be able to reach us. I timed our speed and hoisted Ellie up as we approached the bridge. I was weakening fast as the incredibly cold water sapped my strength. I feared I would not get Ellie high enough for him to catch her.
As we passed under him, I felt Ellie suddenly lifted from my aching arms! He had her! Then I went under the water. I fought back to the surface, but it became increasingly difficult to keep my head above the water. My strength was quickly failing me. I felt a tree limb slap my face and I grabbed it. I clung to it for a few seconds and then felt something smash into my left arm and side, then carry me away.
It was some kind of pole, or tree. I couldn't tell. Then it caught on something with the end that was away from me and started to pivot. It forced me into shallower water as it swung around. The water was waist high but the log was still pushing me. I dropped down as far as I could and felt something wooden and solid. It must have been the remains of a footbridge or something. I grabbed it and held on. The floating object slid across my back, scouring it as it passed.
I realized I was only able to cling with my right hand. My left would not respond. I tried to pull myself from the water, but my legs were leaden. I was about to give up when I heard Jen! She was above me, wading as far into the water as she dared.
I felt her grab my shirt collar and start pulling. Even in my diminished mental state, I worried that if I went back into the current Jen would not let go and be dragged with me. That fear made me crawl and squirm with every bit of strength and determination I could muster. Together, we managed to get out of the water.
I heard Jen talking on her cell phone as I tried to sit up. That was when I saw my left arm bent at a bizarre angle under me. I wondered how I would be able to work with it like that. That was the last thought I remember before hearing voices from far away. That happened a few times before I actually opened my eyes and looked around.
It was obvious that I was in a hospital and my arm was heavily wrapped. I saw Jen, Audrey, and Ellie all sitting around my bed. Jen noticed that my eyes were open and whooped loudly.
"Dad! How are you feeling? That was the bravest, coolest thing I ever saw!" she exclaimed. "You saved Mom's life. That coward, Wilkins, left her and jumped to shore to save himself. You jumped right into the flood and then lifted Mom up to the guy on the bridge."
As Jen spoke, the memories came rushing back. I looked at my left arm. I still couldn't feel it, but I could see my hand. I wiggled my fingers and felt relief wash over me.
"Your arm was broken pretty bad, but it is going to heal okay, Dad. It looked awful when I helped you out of the water. I bet you're glad I ran cross country and track, aren't you?" quizzed Jen. "I chased you over a mile, trying to catch you. I wasn't going to give up even if I had to run all the way to the river!"
My throat was sore and I couldn't speak. I found out later that I had been under the knife for two hours and was feeling the effects of the drugs I was given.
Ellie just listened as Jen recounted the events. She never said a word. It wasn't long and I was asleep again. It took four days before I was allowed to leave. I had plenty of time to think as I lay in the hospital.
The girls made a big fuss over me when I finally got home. My parents and Ellie's folks were there to greet me. It was all very touching.
"Son, you saved our daughter's life, at the risk of your own. I honestly expect no less from my daughter's husband, but it sure is good to see that you are the man I hoped you would be," Ellie's father announced in front of everyone. "If she had to depend on that damn Wilkins, she'd just be a fond memory right now."
I blushed at the rare praise from my father-in-law. His sincerity could not be doubted. We had a dinner to celebrate my homecoming. Finally everyone left. The girls hugged me and went off to bed.
I made my way to the bedroom and climbed between the sheets. Ellie was watching my every move, saying nothing. I was exhausted and fell to sleep immediately. I woke during the night to the sounds of Ellie's sobs. Then I drifted back to sleep.
I was sitting at the table when the girls left for school. I was making mental notes of things I had to do. First, I had to meet with my crew to find out how far behind schedule we were. I would probably have to hire another man to take my place for a couple months, or so. Ellie's voice broke my concentration.
"Ted, I am so sorry about everything! You saved my life, even after everything I did to you. When I was being tossed around in the floodwaters, I actually wanted to die, but I knew you would come after me. It wasn't a hope that I had. It was a certainty. Dan was just a stupid mistake. He isn't good enough to carry your shoes."
"I have made a serious mistake, but I am determined to make it up to you, Ted, if it takes the rest of my life. I will do anything you ask, Ted," promised Ellie. "Just tell me what you want."
"Ellie, I had a lot of time to think. You were swept into the flooded stream by accident. I could not stand by and see you hurt, or killed, because of a freak accident."
"If you had been standing next to me and told me that you wanted to jump into the raging waters, I would have done all I could to prevent you from doing that. If, after all my efforts, you still jumped, I would feel badly as I watched you being swept away," I admitted. "I would not, however, jump in after you."
Ellie was holding her breath as she listened. I plunged on.
"Ultimately, we are each responsible for our actions. You knowingly, willingly, even eagerly, jumped into Dan Wilkins' arms and bed. It was no accident. I tried to convince you not to take up with him, but you did anyway."
"Ted! I was wrong! I know that now. He means nothing to me. Please believe me when I tell you that I love only you!" pleaded Ellie. "I haven't seen him since that day. I will do anything to make this up to you!"
"That is good to hear, Ellie," I replied as I reached into my briefcase. "I have come to realize that you are not too good for me. In fact, it is quite the opposite. Just sign these divorce papers for me and I won't ask you for another thing."
Bless me Father, for I have sinned, and I wish I could die!" I wailed into the darkness.
Before I could stop crying, the door to my confessional was opened and Father McKenzie stood over me. He offered his hand to me as he spoke.
"Come with me, Eleanor, please. We need more time and privacy than this confessional can offer. Come with me to my office."
I allowed him to lead me to the front of the dark, lonely church. Then he opened a door to a small room with files and a desk. I sat in the chair he offered and slowly began to compose myself. Finally, the tears stopped and I was able to speak.
"Father McKenzie, I cheated on Ted. He caught me with another man!" I blurted. "Now Ted hates me and asked for a divorce. I want to die!"
"Ted caught you in the act, so to speak, Eleanor?" asked the ancient priest. At my nod he continued.
"Did Ted physically abuse you? Or verbally? Or sexually, when he caught you?" he queried. I shook my head.
"What exactly did Ted do?" questioned Father McKenzie.
"He looked like someone had just plunged a dagger into his heart. Then he quickly walked away. He never said anything, Father. I would have felt better if he had beaten me," I confessed. "I certainly deserved it."
"Was it the next time that you saw Ted that he told you he hated you and asked for a divorce?" prodded the priest.
"Well, no. The next time I saw him was when the car I was in drove into the flooded stream and I was swept away by the floodwaters. I was ready to give up when Ted caught me," I answered, remembering every detail of that dramatic day. "Ted hoisted me up to some men on a bridge as we passed under it. He saved my life, after he had just caught me cheating a few minutes before!"
"I believe I heard about that flooded stream and Ted's heroism," Father McKenzie replied. "I understand his arm was badly broken and your older daughter practically dragged him out of the stream by herself. That was about a week ago, wasn't it?"
"It was six days ago; the longest six days of my life. Ted met with a lawyer while he was in the hospital and had him draw up divorce papers. He gave them to me the morning after he came home," I sobbed. "He told me he used to think I was too good for him, but now he realizes it is he that is too good for me. He wants a divorce. He hates me."
"I see," Father McKenzie nodded as he spoke. "Ted hates you. He jumped into a flooded stream and risked his life to save his horrible, cheating, unfaithful wife. While in the hospital, doped up on all kinds of drugs and in great pain, he made the decision to ask you for a divorce. Did he tell you he hated you?"
"Ted never used those words, but I know he does! How could he not? He would never ask for a divorce if he didn't," I reasoned.
"You thought Ted should accept being a cuckold? You thought that would be demonstrating his love for you?" continued the old cleric. "You thought if he loved you he would accept you sleeping with other men? Is that what you thought when you were being unfaithful to Ted? He should accept everything you do and not complain, and certainly not ask for a divorce?"
"No!" I practically shouted. "I knew Ted would never accept me having an affair! I just never thought about him finding out. I would never hurt him deliberately."
"Excuse me for appearing dense, Eleanor, but how in the world could you think that betraying your husband, your daughters and your entire family, would not hurt Ted? Did you take precautions against disease and pregnancy?" demanded the priest.
I had not expected such a difficult time with Father McKenzie. He had been a family friend, as well as the local priest, for as long as I could remember. He performed the ceremony when Ted and I were married. He had always been kind, gentle, and non-judgmental. Now he seemed to be almost as horrified as Ted had been. Had I made another mistake by confiding in him?
I was not on the pill, so Dan had used a condom. I felt relieved and ashamed at the same time. Somehow it made me feel more guilt, knowing we planned ahead enough to have protection. I pushed that from my mind and spoke to the old man before me.
"Looking back, of course it had to hurt him. There could be no other result," I admitted. "I just blocked those thoughts from my mind when I was with the other man. I just wanted to have a little fling, to prove I was still a desirable woman, and not some old hag."
"Had Ted been less than attentive sexually? Perhaps you felt short-changed by Ted," suggested the priest. "Is he lacking as a lover? Is he possibly not equipped to give you the pleasure you seek in bed? Is he selfish or rough?"
"No! Ted is a wonderful lover. He is very virile, but considerate. His 'equipment' works just fine, Father."
"Perhaps he leaves much to be desired as a provider and as a father to your daughters," countered the old priest in a very irritating manner. "Are you looking for someone that will take better care of you and the girls?"
"Ted is the best husband and father you will ever find!" again I practically yelled. "He supports us extremely well. The girls adore him. I could never find his equal, let alone someone better!"
"No reason to be upset with me, Eleanor," replied Father McKenzie. "I am just trying to determine why you have given up on Ted. Where has he failed that you are willing to end your marriage?"
"I am not willing to end our marriage. He is the one asking for the divorce, not me!" I shot back in desperation.
"You want to stay married and just have lovers from time to time, or do you want to have one long term lover?" questioned the once kindly priest.
"Damn it! I don't want any lovers, ever. I just want Ted to love me! He is all the lover, husband, father and friend I could ever want! Why is that so hard for you to understand?" I exploded.
"The question, I think, should be why has it been so difficult for you to understand, Eleanor?" responded Father McKenzie softly.
I just sat there, too numb to respond. That was the question! Why didn't I realize I had it all, the whole enchilada? Why had I betrayed everyone that I loved, and that loved me, for a fling with a conceited, self-centered jackass?
"Father, do you think I am mentally ill? Could that be why I did such an awful thing? Maybe I should just join an order of nuns and go to some far away place to work with AIDS victims. That would cleanse my soul of sin, wouldn't it?" I asked.
"If you left your family to do that, I would think you are mentally ill. God isn't looking for people that want to torture themselves. People do those things to help others, not as some sick kind of self-determined retribution, or punishment!" preached Father McKenzie. "Come with me for a minute, Eleanor."
I followed him to the door as he stood just beyond it. He pointed to the two-dozen or so people sitting in the church, praying.
"Look at all the lonely people, Eleanor. See Mr. Peak over there? His wife was extremely over-weight. She had diabetes, high blood pressure, and very bad circulation, but that did not stop her from eating everything in sight! She had a massive stroke and died at age 43. He is alone and heart-broken."
"Look at Tom Fiona in front. Every day he comes here and begs God to forgive him for hitting a minivan and hurting two small children, while he was driving drunk. Every night he goes out drinking and drives home! His wife left him years ago and his kids won't speak to him," observed the clergyman.
"To the left is Mrs. Martin. She is a widow at 49. Her husband smoked two packs a day. He died from cancer last year," revealed the old priest.
"The fellow in the last pew is always trying to score oxycontin, except when he is here, in the church. Just two rows in front of him is a woman that has shared needles with every addict within 100 miles. Take a good look. I want you to know where all the lonely people come from! They, or their loved ones, made bad decisions, very bad decisions," he concluded.
"That is the human condition, Eleanor. People mess up all the time, but some learn from their mistakes and some don't. It isn't mental illness so much as it's human frailty. Compared to a fatal stroke from selfishly being a glutton for forty years, driving drunk and hurting others, smoking two packs a day and getting cancer, or risking aids, hepatitis, and/or jail, your offense is minor. There is a chance it can be rectified. That will depend on you, what you have learned, and what you are made of," stated Father McKenzie.
He led me back inside the office and again sat me down. I was trying to absorb everything this wise old man was telling me.
"Frankly, Eleanor, I honestly wonder if you have what it takes. You have always been on top. You've always been a winner. You haven't had to work and struggle when all appeared to be lost. You are being tested, and thus far, you have failed. You yielded to temptation."
He was right! I had always had things my way. I used my looks, abilities, brains, and charm to get everything I had ever wanted. I had never known bad times. Breaking a nail really wouldn't count as hard times.
"The brunt of the test, the most difficult part, is still to come," promised Father McKenzie. "What are you going to do now? Ted asked for a divorce. Do you really believe it was because he hates you? Could it be that you have hurt him tremendously with your betrayal and he doesn't know any other way to respond? You have compromised his masculinity by giving your body to another man. As your husband, he rightly demands that he be the only one to enjoy carnal pleasures with you."
"I have betrayed him, as you keep pointing out. What can I do to change that?" I cried.
"Absolutely nothing, Eleanor. No one can relive the past. Remember the people I pointed out to you in the church? They made bad decisions and had neither the strength nor discipline to change. God will forgive them, and you, for that matter. Your problem is here on earth," he reminded me. " You must decide if you want to stay with Ted. If you do, then you cannot agree to a divorce. You must change your self-centered approach to your life."
"Isn't the decision his, Father?" I asked. "Doesn't he have to want to stay married to me?"