It had all happened so quickly. Within a period of six months, my loving, caring husband had drifted away from me into the arms of a young woman whom we both had befriended. She was nothing like the type he would have chosen for a lover. Immature, giggly, and probably just out of school, she had married an older man who could give her the rich lifestyle she hankered after, and entry into a social circle that bestowed on her a semblance of respectability.
The days that followed were excruciatingly painful. I had been betrayed by the very man I had loved unstintingly. Where had I failed him? Why had he sought solace in the arms of another woman? Such self deprecatory thoughts weighed me down. Robin had flaunted all forms of decency by moving in with a woman whose husband was an invalid. I felt sorry for Desmond who must have been suffering with similar pain.
Learning to live again on my own was a long and lonely process. Though I had many friends they either avoided me or tip toed around me, too embarrassed to broach the subject of my desertion or enquire how I was coping.
But I had a steady job that kept me occupied during the day. I threw myself into my work to keep from brooding. I went to the gym three times a week to tire myself out, so I would fall into bed exhausted. But deep inside was this indescribable ache of loneliness and a feeling that I had failed him and sent him seeking satisfaction elsewhere. How long would it take to heal I wondered.
Then one bright sunny Sunday morning, I decided to take a walk in the park nearby. This was something I used to do every Sunday until tragedy struck. There she was, the dear old lady sitting alone on her bench. I had often stopped to chat with her on my walks.
“Here you are at last dearie.” Her voice rang out when I was some distance away. “Where have you been all these months? I thought you had moved away.”
Her concern drove me to tears. It didn’t bother me that I was pouring my heart out to a casual acquaintance. I told her how my self esteem had plummeted and my confidence had taken a beating. She placed her hand on mine, and I felt the flow of her warmth and kindness.
“Dear,” she said, “Hang on there bravely. Give yourself time to adjust to your single state. Time is a great healer. You’re young and good looking. Soon you must develop your own social life. Perhaps a better future awaits you.”
It was a pep talk that none of my friends had bothered to give me.
“When God closes one door, he always opens another,” she assured me.
It didn’t happen overnight. But gradually I learnt to let go of the pain in my heart, until it receded into an occasional twinge. If I was to be free of rancor, I had to forgive.
Robin and Olga were still living-in. Their marriage could not be legalized because Desmond was unwilling to sign the divorce papers. A few months later, I heard that he had died in his sleep. Now they were free to marry.
Almost a year and a half went by before I met someone special. He was a Professor of English at a local college, a confirmed bachelor who had never considered marriage. I liked being in his company. We sometimes met for dinner or a movie or a concert. We had similar tastes in books and music. We were both determined to keep it platonic. I didn’t dare commit myself to a permanent relationship and I thought he felt the same. We nurtured our friendship carefully.
Then one day over dinner, Mathew surprised me.
“Have you ever considered marrying again Valerie?”
“Not really,” I said, “But surely if the right man comes along, I’d give it a thought”
“I’ve been a bachelor for so long that I wonder if I’ll be any good as a husband.”
“Consider this,” I said, “Love may be the most desirable commodity in the world, but it involves a total commitment. No holding back. And don’t for once imagine that marriage delivers happiness automatically. It is something that must be learned and practiced on a daily basis.”
We left it at that with no promises given or received. Mathew did not call for a few days, and I thought he was put off by my mini-sermon on marriage.
Then something so surprising happened that completely flummoxed me. I was just getting ready for dinner when Robin knocked on my door. I could hardly recognize him. He looked haggard and had aged considerably. I stifled the desire to throw my arms around him.
“What brings you here Robin?”
He didn’t answer for a few minutes, then burst into tears, sobbing so convulsively that he began to gasp for breath.
“Take hold of yourself Robin,” I said.
My heart ached for this sad man who had been such a jovial person. What I felt was a deep pity
“I’m sorry Valerie,” he begged, “I know I’ve put you through a lot of pain. I am reaping the consequences of my wickedness.”
His story was something like a horror movie. It was Desmond who had suggested that Olga start an affair with Robin. They were in a desperate financial situation and had reached their bottom dollar. Creditors were baying for their blood. The bank wanted to seize their assets. They were looking out for somebody who could bail them out of their predicament. Robin had walked right into that web of deceit which they had cleverly woven for him.
“I never suspected even for a moment that Olga’s profession of love was all a ruse to make me pay their bills. She played her part so well, showering me with her affection, doting on me and making me feel that I was the most important person in her life. It felt so good to be loved by such a beautiful young girl.”
“But you are married to her, aren’t you?”
“No. I found out in time that she was cuckolding me and was in another clandestine relationship with a very rich man. But what really sent shivers down my spine was her casual admission that she had poisoned Desmond and got him out of the way.”
“Oh my God! Did she kill him?”
“Poisoned would be a better word. He died in his sleep after his nightcap was spiked with poison. I became paranoid after that especially when I discovered that she was cultivating a new interest.”
All I felt for the poor sucker was pity. He had walked out on our beautiful marriage, all for nothing. I couldn’t even bring myself to say that I was sorry for him. If he had come with hopes of a reconciliation he was barking up the wrong tree.
“Our marriage is dead and buried. It can never be resurrected again,” I thought.
As though reading my mind he said, “I’m sorry Valerie, for all the trouble and heartache I have put you through. I want to come back. Give our marriage a second chance.
I promise I’ll never be unfaithful to you again.”
“No amount of apologizing can change what you have done. To take you back would be to demean myself. I’m sorry that things didn’t work out for you. But I can’t help.”
“Is there someone else in your life then?”
“That’s none of your business,” I said, showing him the door.
Long after he had gone I sat there imagining what it would be to fall in love again – to nestle cheek to cheek with someone warm and tender, someone who would love me unconditionally and passionately. I hoped that someday soon Mathew would come to me and say, “Yes, that’s exactly how I feel.”