It was nearly two weeks before my doctor started making noises about releasing me from the hospital. By that time, I was getting around pretty well by myself. The catheter the hospital staff had put on had been removed after the third day and, although painful at first I could get to the bathroom on my own, and a couple of days after that I even managed to take showers by myself.
Ashley showed up every day, and when she wasn't at the hospital visiting, she called me several times a day to let me know where she was, and what she was doing.
I asked her to stop calling so much because it was not only annoying but her daily itinerary was of very little interest to me.
Each day that she showed up, she looked a little more run down and a little more depressed, as though she had spent the previous night doing much more crying and worrying than getting any actual sleep. Furthermore, during every single visit she persisted on telling me how sorry she was, how much she loved me and only me, and how she didn't even understand herself how she could have done what she had done, despite how often I told her it wasn't important, and that I really didn't want to hear it.
On one occasion, she looked at me with moisture forming at the corner of her eyes and said, "Oh god, Tom, I'm so ashamed. I swear to you, it wasn't planned. I guess I was just so drunk that night. Honest to god, honey ... I hardly even remember anything happening between us ... I..."
I sat up in bed, grimaced with pain, which stopped her from talking as she quickly jumped up and started to come forward in order to comfort me. I waved her off with my hand, and after she had sat down again I calmly said, "Ashley, you've told me all that a dozen times or more already, and I've tried to assure you that it really doesn't matter. What does matter to me is that you be more discreet in the future. It would really bother me if outsiders or other family members, including our children, started thinking of me as some kind of wimp, cuckold husband that..."
I never got to finish my sentence because Ashley burst into tears, jumped up and then dashed out the door. I could hear her short heals clicking on the tiled floor as she ran down the hospital hallway toward the elevators.
After that Ashley didn't try to offer any farther reason for her actions with Jeff to me, and she simply sat quietly looking at me during her subsequent visits.
My children, Arlene and Jeffrey also visited me quite often, sometimes arriving with Ashley and at other times with other family members. They were always bubbly and excited and told me how proud they were of me. They told me how my picture had been in the local newspapers and on the TV newscasts for several days and how they themselves had become somewhat of celebrities with a lot of their fellow students and teachers at school wanting to talk to them about their hero father.
Amber and Amy also dropped by just about every day, bringing with them flowers, candy, magazines, or anything else they could think of to make my hospital stay more comfortable.
Conspicuous by his absence, at least to me, was Jeff, who never showed up again after that first day. He obviously realized, and correctly so, that I didn't ever what to see him again. I had no idea what he had told Amber or Amy about why he didn't come visit the man that had saved his wife and daughters life, and I really didn't care, besides, whatever, he had told them seemed to have satisfied them because they never mentioned anything about it to me.
Two police detectives also showed up and questioned me but the interview didn't last long because they already had the entire story from any number of eyewitnesses.
My boss from the office showed up one day and told me to take all the time I needed to recuperate before returning to work. He assured me that everyone in the office, including upper management considered me a hero and were behind me one hundred percent.
I was scheduled to be released from the hospital that following Friday but not wanting Ashley to come and get me, I managed to talk my doctor into releasing me a day early. I suppose I wanted to punish Ashley even farther by getting home on my own thereby subtly letting her know that I really didn't need her.
Having previously asked my son and daughter to bring me a change of clothing, on Thursday, I got dressed, called a taxi and then after clearance from hospital administration I was promptly wheeled out of the hospital by one of the volunteers at around 11 am.
"A cab should be here any second now," I told him just as a taxi rounded the corner and pulled to a stop in front of us.
After the cab dropped me off, not surprisingly, I found the house to be unoccupied. Ashley was undoubtedly still at work and both the kids in school. Ashley had gotten into the habit of visiting me in the hospital at around 3:30 pm each day. Her workday didn't usually end until 4:30 pm so I assumed she had been getting off work a little early while I was convalescing in the hospital.
A quick peek through the side kitchen door into the garage verified that Ashley's car was indeed gone but mine was there. Obviously, someone had driven it home from the convenience store/gas station after my confrontation with the bad guys.
I noticed the phone answering machine light flashing so I pressed the playback button and listened to the recorded messages. There were a few messages from the local newspaper office and TV stations requesting an interview along with a number of goodwill praises from a few friends and neighbors, and one message from someone that had not left his name, which simply said, "Forgive me..." That voice, I recognized. "Not likely Jeff," I said to the mute phone as I erased the machine.
I just stood there looking at the dead phone. Jeff's voice and those two words: "forgive me" did something to me, and suddenly I felt only emptiness. The inside of my body felt as though it had been hollowed out to be replaced by a cold, dark void. Then, even as I stood there that void also began to dissipate. Instead of that cold emptiness, I could only experience one powerful and controlling emotion: anger.
I don't know how long I just stood there letting that anger boil inside me, feeling like I was on a wild roller coaster ride, until I eventually started feeling all shaky and dizzy. Then remembering that it was I that had chosen the form of punishment to inflict upon my unfaithful wife and best friend, I knew I needed to come down; become level in order for that punishment to be effective. I imagined myself walking a long stone staircase leading down a mountain side. With each descending step, I felt myself getting closer and closer to a controlled state, and eventually I managed to force my anger way back down deep inside me somewhere.
I went to the kitchen and heated up a can of condensed vegetable soup and then made myself a ham and cheese sandwich. After eating hospital food for ten days even this pedestrian food tasted pretty damned good to me, and I felt a lot better.
After cleaning up the lunch dishes, I walked upstairs. I wanted to make sure I could manage the staircase without causing myself a lot of pain due to my injury. It wasn't a problem. A little twitch here and there was the extent of it but no real pain.
I stood in the doorway looking inside the master bedroom staring at our marital bed. I shuddered and felt my stomach heave as deep feelings of loss, betrayal, and disgust came over me. I felt heartbroken because of what she had done to our marriage wondering if I could ever bring myself to forgive her. "How do I get past this?" I asked myself. I still loved her, I knew that, but I also hated her just as strongly at the same time.
"Give it some time and see what happens," I told myself ... however, I knew if I could not get past it, I would have to move on ... leaving her would be better for me, her and our two children in the long run, unless I could truly learn to let it go.
Moving to the hallway closet I pulled down a couple of spare pillows, two sheets and a blanket and then I made my way back downstairs. After depositing the bedding items onto the couch in the den, I retrieved an empty cardboard box from the garage and went back to upstairs where I filled it with my toiletries from the master bath and then added several pairs of socks, underwear, and numerous other clothing items from the bedroom closet and dresser into it.
The toiletries I placed in the downstairs bathroom and the clothing items I left inside the box which I placed in one corner of the den.
After making up the den couch into a bed I felt a bit fatigued so I plopped down onto the recliner in the family room and promptly fell asleep.
I awoke to the sound of my daughter, Arlene's, excited voice yelling, "Daddy, daddy, you're home! You're so awesome! Can I hug you or will it hurt you too much?" She asked as she ran over toward me after dropping her backpack onto the carpet.
"It would only hurt if you didn't hug me princess," I told her with a smile as I scooted forward and extended my arms.
I hugged my little girl and gave her a few kisses on the cheek and forehead when my son Jeffrey came into the room.
"Hi dad, you're home, cool," He said acting like all grown up.
"Yep, I'm home," I told him with a smile.
"Cool," he repeated and then added, "Can I see your scar later?"
"Sure, after the dressing comes off. Right now I'm afraid there's not much to see but a big old bandage." I told him.
"Now that you're home maybe mommy won't be so sad all the time." Arlene said after giving me a kiss on the cheek and stepping back.
"Yeah, she's been a real pain," Jeffrey added.
.... There is more of this story ...