As soon as I came through the door, Mary ran up to me, threw her arms around me and gave me a deep kiss. "What took you so long?" she purred.
"I got tied up at the delivery point. I'm sorry." It was the first real lie I ever told her, and I felt horribly guilty as soon as the words left my mouth.
"That's okay; I forgive you." That was followed by a tight hug and another deep kiss. "You're back now, and that's all that counts. Just don't ever leave me like that again. I missed you too much!"
Her words shot through my heart like little arrows, each one wounding me further. I looked into her eyes and was glad that I made the decision that I did. Yet, I couldn't deny that I already missed Erwin as terribly as I did when I was nine, perhaps even more.
Mary was looking into my eyes, and she simply loved me too much to not know that something was amiss.
"Nothing, I just missed you too much; that's all."
Mary gave me another hug. "That's okay; you're home now, and everything can get back to normal."
'But will it?' I thought. I knew in my heart that things will never be normal again, but I had to try to pretend that it would be. Mary at least deserved that from me and so did my son. They were the innocent participants in this horrible game that fate was played on me and Erwin.
I tried to act like everything was the same before I went to Texas. I really did, and I thought I was doing a pretty good job of it, too. Unfortunately, I wasn't doing quite as good of a job as I thought. Mary knew that something was wrong. At least, I think that she knew, even though she didn't say anything about it.
Well, it was an uncomfortable situation between me and my wife. I knew that the atmosphere in the house had changed. Everything seemed so surreal. I mean, we went through our normal routines and did all of the things we always used to, but it was different than before. It was as if we were only acting our rolls in our lives rather than living them.
We both acted like we were happy, but it was all so superficial. We still laughed the same, made love the same and achieved our orgasms, but it just wasn't the same. Now, I don't know what she thought or how she felt, but it was just about killing me!
More than once, I was tempted to just sit down with her and come clean. Each time I'd made up my mind to do it, I would look into her eyes, but I just couldn't bring myself to say anything that would hurt her. I think she knew that I wanted to tell her something, but the way she looked at me during those times, I got the distinct feeling that she'd rather not know.
To be honest, I didn't know if I was a coward for not telling her, or a coward if I did. I know most guys would say that I just didn't have the balls to face her and tell her what had happened. Yet, I think most women would have called me a coward if I did! Would I really be just unloading on her to relieve my own guilt? That would have been a supremely selfish move on my part if it was. The thing was, I really didn't know which would have been the truth.
All I know is I was miserable inside. Mary saw it. I don't know how she saw it. Maybe it was her woman's intuition, or maybe it was that I just wasn't as good of an actor that I thought it was. The only thing that really mattered was that she did see it, and I suspect that it was making her as miserable inside as it did me. The only good thing was that we weren't arguing and that Jeremiah, my son, remained clueless to this poison that permeated our home.
That was poor consolation for what I was going through, not to mention what Mary was feeling. Still, given all the facts, I took it. Naturally, a person could only take so much underlying stress like that before something went wrong.
The something came one day when I had a difficult pick up. Nothing was ready, and I was losing time waiting for them. Then, because I was late dropping the load off, I got bitched out at the receiving end! I'd just gotten back into the cab of my truck when my heart started racing. It felt like it was pounding in my chest and I couldn't seem to catch my breath!
My first thought was that I was having a heart attack. I was light headed and suddenly, I felt like everything was closing in on me! I was terrified, and all I knew was that I had to get out of the truck! I needed to get out of that tiny space and into the open air! I was desperate and couldn't seem to open the door. When I finally did get it open, I stumbled out of the rig and collapsed to my knees.
I thought I was going to black out, but I didn't. 'Isn't my chest or arm supposed to hurt?' I thought. Then I realized that I wasn't in any kind of pain at all. By then, my breathing was starting to get back to normal, and my heart wasn't racing quite as much anymore either.
"Are you okay?"
I felt the dock worker's hand on my shoulder before I saw him.
"You look like shit. Want me to call an ambulance or somethin'?"
It was difficult for me to speak since I was still gulping air, but I somehow managed to tell him that I would be alright.
He didn't look very convinced, and although he let go of my shoulder and gave me some space, he stood nearby and watched me for a few moments longer.
At first, I wasn't sure what had come over me. I used to be in tanks in the army so I was used to being in small spaces, so knew that I wasn't claustrophobic. After a couple of minutes, I was able to stand up and waved the dock worker off. I'd heard of panic attacks before. I even had a friend once who used to get them, but not in my wildest dreams did I ever think that I would have one!
Anyway, because of my friend, I knew enough about them to recognize that that's what I'd had. I also knew enough about them to know why I had one. It was because of all the stress in my life. It was because I was living a life that was unnatural to me. It was because I was living a lie. I suppose it had been building up deep inside of me ever since I came back from Texas, and the shitty day I had was just enough to push me over the edge.
Unfortunately, there wasn't anything that I could do about it. I mean, just because I had a panic attack didn't mean anything had changed about my situation. All I could do was hope that I didn't have another one.
I was anxious over the next few days, and I realized that being anxious about having another one could actually bring one on, but I couldn't help it. I didn't say anything about it to Mary since I didn't want her to worry about me. I didn't want her to question why I suddenly had one, either. Yeah, we both knew there was something wrong between us, but it was like, if we didn't talk about it, then it didn't really exist. Kind of like that old expression, letting sleeping dogs lie.
By the end of the week, I still hadn't had another panic attack, and I began to relax. 'Maybe it was just a one time deal, ' I thought, and was grateful that I seemed to have dodged a bullet.
It was about two weeks later that things really took a turn. Erwin called me! I didn't even remember giving her my phone number! Who knows? Maybe she got it off my phone while I was sleeping, or in the bathroom. To say I was shocked is an understatement. I have to admit, though, I found myself thrilled to hear her voice again--shocked, thrilled and horrified all at the same time.
"I'm coming to Cincinnati."
She said it as calmly as if we were just old pals sitting across a table from one another.
"I don't think that's a good idea."
"Why not? After seeing you after all these years, I just can't stand losing you again. I just can't go through all of those years again! Besides, there's nothing here for me except this shitty apartment and my shitty waitress job. I could do just as well in a shitty apartment with a shitty waitress job in Cincinnati. The only difference is, at least there, I'll be near you."
"But you know I'm married, and my wife never did anything to deserve me cheating on her."
"You mean again. It doesn't matter anyway. I don't care if we never have sex again. I just want to be near you. I want you back in my life again, and I don't care how much time we get to be together or in what capacity so long as I am near you."
"But, Erwin, it would make us both miserable."
"I'm miserable now, and as long as I'm going to be miserable, then I want to be miserable near you."
"I don't know. I really don't think it's a good idea."
"It doesn't matter anyway. I've already made up my mind. I'm coming to Cincinnati."
That was that; she hung up. She said it so matter-of-factly that it was almost scary.
The next day, I had my second panic attack. I'm just thankful that I wasn't driving. Well, I'm also thankful that I was alone, too. I was in the men's room at the trucking company. Even though I knew what it was, it was still terrifying. Our dispatcher noticed that there was something wrong right away, and despite my assurances that I was all right, he sent me home.
Of course, Mary knew that something was wrong the moment she got home. At first, it was because I was never home that early in the afternoon. Then when she saw the look on my face, she was certain that something was terribly wrong. I mean, I didn't feel sick or anything. I guess she could just see the worry and stress in my face.
"Are you all right?" She said it while reaching to feel my forehead.
I didn't know how to answer her. I wasn't really sick. At least, not in the way she thought. I thought about just playing it off, but then figured I should probably tell her something! After all, what if I had another panic attack while I was home? Not only would it scare the bejesus out of her, but then what would I tell her afterwards? I mean, should I lie and say it was my first one? If not, how could I explain that I've had them before and not told her? It seemed everything was getting more complicated by the minute. I was beginning to feel like everything was spinning out of control and I didn't know how to stop it.
I had to stop thinking about it before the whole thing brought on another attack, right there on the couch! I tried to think of something pleasant and took a few deep breaths. Unfortunately, the image that popped into my head was Erwin, back when she was nine.
Of all the things I could have thought of, why did that image have to come to mind?!
It was like everything else. I was losing control. I was losing control of my life, and I was losing control of my marriage. I suddenly felt tears welling up in my eyes, and in the next moment, I found myself blubbering like a little child! Hell, I'd lost control of myself, too!
Mary immediately wrapped her arms around me to comfort me, which about broke my heart, and I sobbed even harder. She didn't deserve this. She didn't deserve me!
When I was finally able to regain control of myself, I looked up at her, and we both knew it was time for us to talk.
"I have something to tell you," I began, slowly.
"Well, remember when I did that run down to Texas?"
"How could I forget? Things haven't been the same since!"
There was a long pause. I just couldn't think of the right words to say, especially with her sitting there looking at me like that. All I could think of were the memories I had of my marriage and how much I loved Mary. I didn't want to hurt her. But Jeremiah would be home soon, and the opportunity to clear the air between us was slipping away.
Mary knew it, too, and with tears forming in her eyes, she said, "You had an affair while you were in Texas didn't you."
There was no accusation in her voice. There was no anger; she just stated it as a fact.
She turned away saying, "I knew it."
"I didn't want it to happen. I was perfectly happy being married to you, and driving down there, all I could think about was how I couldn't wait to come back home to you."