Most of the time, I’m a pretty good girl. I don’t steal or lie or hit on boys with girlfriends. I never litter and I feed stray animals.
But every once in a while, I do something so heinous, so terrible, that it sort of pays up my bad girl dues for the next year or two.
Probably one of the worst things I’ve done…the act requiring the highest level of duplicity and utter disregard for ethics…happened six years ago, when I cheated on my boyfriend. I mean, this was more than some “I got drunk at a party and I found myself making out with your friend when I said I was walking to the store to get cigarettes” situation. Well, that happened, too…but like, 10 years ago in Chicago. A different boyfriend, different geography, and a very different me.
This act of infidelity lasted a year. It began just days before I moved to Portland to be with my boyfriend (but more importantly, start a new new life). My mom pretended not see the bite marks on my neck (look, this guy was young and enthusiastic, so cut me some slack) when we went to drop off boxes of clothes and art supplies at UPS. In the-not-so-distant-future, when my boyfriend called to inform her that her daughter was sleeping with a 20 year-old boy, she responded, “Oh, I’ve known since day one. He’s a really nice boy!”
Portland was initially an epic disappointment. I couldn’t find a job. It rained constantly. I had no friends. My boyfriend was constantly stoned. We never slept together, because he usually just passed out on the living room floor with his dog.
My long distance other-boyfriend was back on the east coast. There were long late night phone calls in the bathtub while my actual boyfriend worked in the dining room. A steady flurry of mixtapes, letters, and random thrift store loot passed back and forth between us. And yes, we emailed, too. I decided to go back east for two months, partially to spend quality time with my mom, but really, to spend every night with my young lad, riding bikes, listening to music, and making out. And hanging out in diners, sharing books, and drinking whiskey in the country. After 8 weeks of solid bliss and relaxation, it was really hard to return to my lonely, semi-unhappy life in Portland. The ticket was booked and there was no escaping my fate.
Back on the west coast, everything escalated to a boiling fervor. Obviously I was inexperienced at deceit, because I took no pains to disguise anything. My boyfriend saw the long phone calls on our shared phone bill. He pulled the letters out of the mailbox after walking his dog each night. He gave me stamps and envelopes. He watched me fastidiously cue records for yet another mixtape. But he never asked me anything about it. I’m not sure when he began to suspect that something unsavory was happening…
…but somewhere along the line, he decided to catch me. He could have asked me outright. “Are you sleeping with ______?” I am terrible at lying, so I usually don’t bother trying. I would have answered “yes.” Maybe he didn’t know this, or maybe he just really wanted to torture himself…or perhaps he just wanted a challenge? I’m sure he relished the idea of tricking me. One night while I was asleep, he secretly installed a program on my computer that captured all of my passwords. And then he logged into my email. All he really found was a lot of inside jokes and stupid catch-up sessions with my Chicago friends. There was actually nothing
incriminating. Nonetheless, he printed out every bit of correspondence between me and my secret boyfriend. For good measure, he also added some emails to/from my first boyfriend Brad and my Chicago friend Alex (also a good friend of Brad). And then he faxed copies to my parents. Sweet.
My mom was annoyed. “I read half a page and then I realized that you and your friends talk about some stupid stuff.”
My father had no comment.
After utilizing his office’s fax machine, he came home to confront me. The actual conversation happened on the balcony. I knew what was coming. In fact, I had been awaiting this moment for months
“So…are you cheating on me with _____?”
And then he let loose with paragraphs I can’t remember. He waved the emails in my face.
I was so relieved. Now we could break up. I could move into my own place. Freedom was imminent.
I apologized, but I know that I didn’t mean it. Sure, I was sorry for lying to him. And I was extra sorry about hurting him. But I didn’t regret anything else.
I took Dylan out for a walk, so I could call my mom. She answered the phone after many rings. “So…I guess you ‘re in some trouble? I have you boyfriend on the other line. ” She laughed.
“Are you mad at me?” I asked this nervously.
She laughed even harder. “Of course not. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”
Oh, yes…I forget to mention this: my mother was a terrible wife when I was a child. Lots of adultery. Since I was less a daughter, and more a friend, she frequently took me along to her fellows’ houses. This usually didn’t bother me, because generally she got involved with guys who had cable.
For some reason, my boyfriend and I did not break up. We struggled for six more months…maybe slightly longer. During this time, I had to give up any sense of privacy (he even searched my bag regularly). And any scrap of dignity was sacrificed, too. He especially enjoyed bringing up my cheating in front of his friends at parties and dinners. “It’s amazing to me that a single mother, with a dead junkie boyfriend no less, thinks that it’s okay for her to go around sleeping with teenagers behind my back.” And so on. It reached a point where even his friends thought he was being sadistic.
Why did I tolerate this? It certainly wasn’t a fear of being alone. I know that’s the common reason people stay together. I definitely felt guilty about hurting him, even if he was a pretty awful boyfriend. Somehow I wanted to prove that I wasn’t so bad.
Finally I just couldn’t take it any more. I could say that the last straw was when he sent emails from my account to every male in my address book. Or when he wouldn’t stop calling my mom to talk about what a slut I might be. But really…it came down to this: I realized that I would never ever be happy again if I stayed in that relationship. And I knew my unhappiness would trickle down to Dylan. This was not an option.
Dylan and I moved to SE Portland…and that marked the beginning of the Portland life I came to love (and still do).