In the eleventh year of your marriage, you found out your wife had been having an affair. She confessed; you were shocked. Boredom, she told you tearfully. Someone else had offered escape, she said.
“I love you,” she said, “but you’re a dull, passionless person. You have no fire.”
She was right, but now wrong. You knew who the man was. For the first time in thirty years, the familiar urge came back to you, for the same reasons. The careful decades of telling yourself you were different now crumbled, in an instant. You could have done it again, right then, had you decided to. But you did not.
Instead you got up from the couch and went out on your deck with a drink (good wine, never the hard stuff) and looked at the sky and thought about the careful, boring man you had sculpted yourself into. No passion at all. Later, your tearstained wife came out and sat with you in the wind of sunset and said she wanted to try to work things out, for your daughters. Her love of your daughters made her want to stay with you and find the middle ground. You wanted badly to offer your forgiveness, as you badly wanted forgiveness for yourself.
Yes, you’d had chances for affairs, but you always held back. Your reason wasn’t strict morality, more the fear of the weight of yet another secret. The thought of that was just too heavy. You accepted life as it was, and you walked in the evening, to get air.
One night, a few years later, the phone rang and your wife held it in front of you, saying “It’s Dennis.” Dennis who? You heard the voice and you were back to that night. Dennis, your long-ago buddy, was not well. Lymphoma. Three or four months. He had the urge to tell, to unburden. He had thought about that night every day of his life, he said into the phone. He’d spoken of it many times over the years, he said, in the darkness of the confessional. Father Shea had told him his soul was now clean, even as it felt not.
“Dennis, I can’t tell you what to do,” you said to him. “We’re all different people now. Do what you feel you must. I would understand.”
“Thank you for that,” he said. “I guess telling would be easy for me now. I’ll be dead before I have to face the consequences. But I think we all should have.” You had the phone to your ear, listening to him. He was a stranger. As Barry had been. Someone about whom you knew nothing.
Dennis asked about your family then, and you told him. He said he had not heard from Jeff in years, no idea where he’d gone. When you hung up, you were giddy that the secret might come out. You were surprised, and gratified, at the relief you felt. For weeks you sat at your desk and prepared things, just in case. You slept straight through each night. You got on the computer and read about juvenile law. You were all sixteen when It happened. Had the three of you gone to the police that night, explained you’d been in a fight that went out of control, you probably would have been out by the age of eighteen. Now you quietly imagined the neat rectangle of a cell, with a thin mattress. The thought didn’t seem as foreboding as it had when you were young and felt the possibilities of life. This future now seemed orderly, calm. You had forgiven your wife, and you imagined and craved her own understanding. You had never given her the opportunity, never shared the secret. You concluded that this was why, in your entire life, you’d never felt true intimacy.