Growing up there was a time when I became incredibly preoccupied with the possibility that my dad was having an affair with a woman who lived in a yellow house with a willow tree in the front yard. This obsession seemed to come from a dream, though the vision felt so real I convinced myself that maybe.. just maybe.. it really happened. So one day I summoned the courage to ask my dad if he knew anyone who lived in a house like I just described. He said no of course. …I wasn’t any closer to figuring out my mystery.
But still, that didn’t keep me from sleuthing for clues, like the pictures I found in my dad’s dresser drawer. There were several self-portraits of women written out “To Tommy” on the backs of them. Tommy??? I never heard anyone refer to him that way — he always went by Tom. Nevertheless, I was young and didn’t immediately or consciously assume these were women he was having an affair with. Instead, wanting to believe my own father had good intentions, I convinced myself that these were women from his past. But why hang on to them? It felt like having the key to my questions in my hands, but not knowing which door of answers it unlocked.
I never let on that I had seen any of it. Deny. Deny. Deny. Lie (to yourself). Lie some more. Do what needs to be done to cover your tracks. Don’t let anyone know you’re onto them. Because that could expose their vulnerability and hence your own. What you pretend not to know can’t hurt you, and it can’t hurt them, as long as you don’t talk about it. When you don’t understand something but you know that whatever it is, it’s going to be painful, avoiding the issue at hand often seems like the best “solution”.
So I pretended the pictures didn’t mean anything. I convinced myself my “dream” was just a dream. I also pretended to understand why my parents didn’t wear their wedding rings–my dad’s hidden away in his drawer along with his collection of women; my mom’s a solitary item in the strawberry dish next to the kitchen sink which she later retired to the confines of her jewelry box. Her ring had two pearls intertwined with a small diamond between them, which seemed to define their marriage so well. They were the pearls and there was a wall as tough as diamonds between them.
It wasn’t until my mother finally revealed to me for the first time five years ago that her husband–my father–had been unfaithful to her repeatedly throughout their marriage. And while they continue to be married for over 40 years, she has yet to confront him about it and he has yet to confess.
What do I do with that?
It takes time to process and accept that your father’s life and marriage was a lie, a sham, a meaningless pile of vacant words tied to a host of insecurities, leaving behind him a cancerous trail of unspoken betrayal and quiet indignation. Could he possibly know the damage he has caused? Would he even care?
It takes time with a person you love to learn to trust that they won’t desert you like that, that you alone are enough for them, that they’ll love you and hold you above all others, forever and ever, as long as you both shall live. And even then, after years of being together and putting all my faith in someone, I was completely blind sighted by my own husband. So naturally, I am now more inclined than ever to question the validity of the words spoken when someone says they love me.
People make promises all the time. Sometimes words can harness all the power in the world. And sometimes they don’t mean shit.
When someone’s staring you in the face telling you who they think you are and you know they’re wrong, what proof do they have to go by other than the action you take next? Do you back down? Or do you stand there and fight? I choose to fight, as hard as I possibly can, to demonstrate through my deeds that I am who I say I am. And though I am a fighter, so too am I a lover who believes very strongly that the world needs more love; every single one of us needs and deserves love, even when we forget. Especially when we forget.
And I feel compelled to believe that through the numerous women my dad slept with during my parents’ marriage, all he was ever looking for was love, acceptance, reassurance that the world was a safe place, perhaps, in the bosom of someone charmed by his false bravado. They say Don Juan slept with hundreds of women because he was afraid he could never be loved by one. He was afraid he couldn’t be loved. Then so too was he unwilling to fight for the only thing worth fighting for.