Split Hearts

 

“It is not a lack of love, but a lack of friendship that makes unhappy marriages.”
― 
Friedrich Nietzsche

If I couldn’t understand it, how could I ever expect to be able to explain it to Sandra? Even if I was able, I certainly could never expect her to come to terms with my dilemma or to forgive me for it.

Driving home that evening left me feeling sick to my stomach. Would this be the end of my marriage, the end of life as I knew it?

It all began a year earlier. A new accountant had been appointed in our department, a shy, almost introverted, middle-aged woman. The first thing I noticed about her were her well defined calf muscles, demonstrating a healthy appetite to some kind of sport. As a distance runner and squash player in my spare time, I had a keen eye for other people’s fitness, making a mental note to ask her about her sporting activities, once we were formally introduced at that morning’s team meeting.

Susan was asked to tell us a little about herself, once the initial introduction had been made. She appeared nervous but determined. She kept it short and precise. Her name was Susan Welby, forty-two, single and had worked in two previous accountancy firms since leaving university at the age of twenty-six. It occurred to me that twenty-six was late to be graduating from an accountancy degree. Her main hobbies were hiking and squash.  She exuded an air of sadness, of personal trauma, of having been recently hurt. I sat there pondering over whether someone close to her had recently died, or maybe the break-up of a close relationship, or perhaps she was fired from her last job. Either way, I thought, as I would be spending a significant amount of time with her, through our work, I would invite her to join me for lunch in order to break the ice and get to know her better.

Then, a year later, I had been driving home trying to figure out what had happened. I’d never thought it possible to love two women. Is this what having an affair was all about? I loved Sandra dearly and would never do anything to hurt her or ruin our life together. I also dearly loved our children. Dean and Shannon were everything to me, and yet Susan had found a place in my heart that was as deep and as painfully important as all of them.

It had begun with our regular lunches together, mainly due to our working relationship, and the practicality of discussing clients during the meal. As she was also a keen squash player we soon decided to meet twice a week after work for a game of squash. Sandra had been fully aware and there was never any talk of jealousy or distrust. My marriage was and still is as trusting and secure as ever. In fact, Sandra had been pleased that I had a regular squash partner, to help keep me fit and reduce the spread that had been accumulating around my waist over recent years.

After squash on Tuesday and Thursday, Susan and I would usually drink a beer together and I would arrive home around 9pm, in time to say good night to the children. This had become our routine.

Somewhere during the year our relationship became complicated, for me at least. I didn’t want it to happen. I didn’t see it coming. I had simply made a new friend and became close. If Susan were a man, it would never have become a problem. The fondness had morphed towards a feeling much stronger. I began to think of Susan as much as my children or Sandra. It didn’t mean that I loved them less. Susan had become an important part of my life and I felt a terrible pressure and guilt because of it.

Was I a bastard? Should I had distanced myself from Susan as soon as I realised she was more than a colleague? Is this what affairs are all about? I felt terrible and lost. Sandra had noticed that something was amiss. She had sensed my inner turmoil. She had asked me numerous times not to shut her out, and whatever it was, to confide in her.

Driving home that evening I had decided to tell her my secret. I was in love with two women and I didn’t know what to do.

******

Sandra cried. It was a deep, heart rending cry. I had hurt the woman I loved beyond repair. How could she ever forgive me for sharing my heart with another? Society provides us with rules to follow. We are not able to feel in the way that nature allows us to. Society puts false boundaries on us. Is it my fault that I fall in love? Is it something to be ashamed of?

All of these questions were ripping through my mind as I sat there watching Sandra’s heart break.

“Have you slept with her?” Sandra asked through wet sore eyes.

“No”, I quietly replied.

“Would you want to?”

“Yes, but I never would”, I said, not really knowing if I was being truthful or not.

She looked deep into my eyes. “Can I really believe you? Oh, Roger, what have you done to us.”

I couldn’t reply. I stood, put my coat on and left the house. Twenty minutes later I was standing in front of Susan’s apartment door.

“Roger! What….what are you doing here at this late hour? What’s happened? What is wrong?”

“Can I come in?”

Susan opened the door and I entered her small two roomed apartment. She was dressed in plain flannelette pyjamas, and despite the difficulty of the situation, I found myself thinking that it is clear she doesn’t have a bed partner. I explained everything to her and told her of my growing love for her, how I had told Sandra and how upset she had been. I told her that I would be terminating my job immediately and would never see her again. Tears began bubbling out of the inner corners of my eyes as I bared my soul.

“I’m such a fool”, I said. “I have ruined Sandra’s life. She will never trust me again.”

“But I don’t understand”, Susan pondered. “We have never ….”

I cut her off. “No, I know. But is adultery only physical? By loving you have I not betrayed Sandra? “

We both were quiet for a while.

Susan suddenly sharpened her eyes, spoke with such determination that I was taken completely by surprise.

“No, I will resign. I will leave this place. You are right, we cannot be responsible for our feelings but only for our actions. Roger, I have loved you since the first time you said goodnight on the last day before Christmas. You pecked me on the cheek and wished me a Merry Christmas. The kiss, although innocent, left me feeling flushed and I couldn’t shake the thought of you from my mind. No, I will move away. I love you and your marriage, children and happiness is more important to me than you can know.”

As she spoke, Susan began to shake. By the time her little speech was over, her face was wet with tears. I said no more. In one evening I had hurt terribly the two most important people in my life, the two women I loved more than anything else, even my own life. I didn’t know what to do. I quietly left.

I drove to a small lake. It was a lake where we often took the children for picnics and sometimes a swim in the dark, peaty water. It was 3am, very still, cool and deserted apart from the distant croaking of male frogs, calling out for a mate.

I was numb. The feeling of guilt was too strong. I had intended to hurt no one, but had hurt everyone. I didn’t plan anything or think any further than the next few minutes, but entered the water fully clothed and walked slowly into the lake. I was unaware of the water. I was floating in a cloud of nothingness. I was happy to be free from all of the pain, guilt and responsibility.  As I finally submerged all I could hear was my name being screamed from far away. I imagined being called to a new place.

******

“Roger! Roger!” were the first words I heard. My eyes were blind except for a blurry, swimming set of colour, as though I was looking through the bottom of a glass bottle. Then I was being shaken. I felt the cold, slowly seeping into my bones, my organs and my mind.

Susan was shaking my shoulders, trying to bring me back. Then I was aware of Sandra, running towards us holding a car blanket. I was being wrapped, rubbed, and brought back to a world that I no longer wanted to re-enter.

Susan and Sandra were both embracing me. That couldn’t be. I must be dreaming. Then slowly I took in the situation. With all sense of dignity gone, my eyes flitted from one to the other and all I could muster was, “I’m so so sorry”

Susan had been so worried after I had left, that she called Sandra at home. After an initially heated conversation they had come looking for me, and found my car at the edge of the lake. Susan, a powerful swimmer, had dived in and these two wonderful women were now pawing over me, through concurrent sobs and smiles of relief.

I woke at 10 o’clock. The sun was blasting through the window, and I was hot and clammy against the damp sheets. I donned a dressing gown and went downstairs, hearing low murmurs coming from the kitchen. I could hardly look at them. Susan and Sandra were sitting at the breakfast bar, on high stools. Susan looked nervous and was cuddling a large mug of tea.  My shame was overbearing. I didn’t know what to say, and turned to walk away.

“Roger, we need to talk”, called Sandra. “Susan and I have been talking. We need you to listen.”

They proceeded to tell me how they have reached a decision that I should not have to choose between them. They had seen how it had hurt me, hurt me more than they ever wanted to see again. Susan wanted me to remain happily married with Sandra and the children. Sandra wanted me to remain close to Susan, who she now realised was a kind, genuine person who loved me much as she did. I was overpowered by such a feeling of love, pride, and even incredible luck, that these two lovely women were only interested in my welfare and my happiness.

Then came the biggest surprise.

“Roger, I love you with all my heart”, began Sandra. “Therefore I think it right if, on the evenings where you and Susan play squash together, you remain with her for that night. We have discussed it and think it right and proper. We love you equally and never want to put you in the position of last night ever again.”

I was aghast. I couldn’t speak. We stood together in the kitchen, hugging each other through a cloud of pure emotion.

Sandra then continued, “Our society doesn’t condone such relationships. Society tells us that we are allowed to love only one person, remain monogamous for our whole lives. Why is it that we are expected to love our children equally, but society frowns on the same for love of two women, or two men? If I love you, which I do, then I must embrace and respect the love you have for Susan. The children though, are another matter. We should keep this from them, at least while they are young.

And so began twelve years of a triangular relationship. On Tuesdays and Thursdays I would stay with Susan. The children assumed I was away on business. After the first year, when Sandra asked me if Susan would be going to family for Christmas, and I explained that she would be alone because she only has one aunt, who lives in Scotland, she suggested that Susan shouldn’t be left alone and should come to us, at least on Christmas Day.

The children grew and came to know Susan as a close friend of the family. They also became close to her and bought her presents for birthday and Christmas, as though she were a part of our family. Most importantly, my love for Sandra became stronger. Her devotion to me and this way of life was a compromise that she had wanted to make, for the sake of all of us. My love for Susan remained unchanged. We would work, play squash, spend two evenings a week together and hug in front of the TV until it was time to turn in.

******

It was a Monday morning. We all sat around the table at breakfast. Dean asked if Susan would be coming this year, as usual. I nodded as Shannon blurted out, “Why doesn’t Susan just move in with us? We have a large house, with a spare bedroom.”

I was completely taken aback. “Why on Earth should she move in here?” I responded.

Dean looked at Shannon and both were grinning and shaking their heads in disbelief.

“Aw, come on Dad. You must think we are still little kids or something. We know that you spend two nights a week with her. We’ve known for years, and it’s fine. We like her, don’t we Shannon?”

Shannon burst out laughing. “Finally it’s out in the open. Yeah Dad of course we like her. She is like an Auntie that we never had.”

“Well, I have to go to work. Really, you kids have some crazy ideas.” I left and for me, the subject was closed.

In the evening Sandra broached the subject again. She had thought about Susan moving in and had not been averse to the idea.

“She still lives alone, probably looking forward to the nights that you are there. We are coming up for sixty years old and, in any case,  it would also be nice for me to have another woman around. I really like Susan and she has proven her love and loyalty to you a thousand times over. If you would like, you have my blessing to ask her if she would like to move here.”

I didn’t know what to say. Yet again Sandra had amazed me with her open compassion.

******

Two months later, after all arrangements had been made, I hired a large van and moved all of Susan’s belongings into our home. Susan kept the lease on her apartment for a year, just in case things didn’t work out.

After a couple of months Sandra had become increasingly aware that Susan and I never slept together. This confused her. She assumed that I or Susan didn’t want to sleep together under the same roof as the rest of my family. Sandra, being Sandra, felt uneasy at this arrangement. Susan had not been invited to live with us in order to become celibate. One day, as the three of us were at breakfast, Sandra raised the subject.

“I don’t quite know how to say this to you both, so I’m just going to blurt it out. I have noticed that you both never sleep together, as you did before Susan moved in here. This is not what I expected,” she continued, and rather hesitantly said,” and not what I want. You both love each other and should spend intimate time together.”

I was just about to speak, as Susan began to explain. At that same moment Dean and Shannon came bowling down the stairs, and set themselves between us at the breakfast table. I assumed that was the end of the discussion until the children were out of the room.

Then Susan took a deep breath and said, “There is something I need to tell you all.”

It was clear from here expression that it was serious. We all became quiet and listened to Susan telling us a story about her earlier life, a story that only I knew and had promised not to tell a soul, not even my family.

Susan explained how she had been brutally attacked on the way home at the age of nineteen. She had been beaten, cut and raped by two men. The men were never caught and she spent six weeks in hospital recovering from the wounds. By this point of her story she was shaking, remembering the whole event. She continued to tell us all how she had become pregnant and carried the baby to full term, only to be cruelly hurt again by a still birth. Sandra was looking at Susan with so much empathy it made my heart sting.

“Since that day I have never been able to sleep with a man,” and then looking at me continued, “no matter how much I loved him or wanted to.”

Sandra whispered, “I didn’t know…..I thought….oh”

“It was so important to me that you didn’t know,” replied Susan. “I could never face not knowing whether your friendship and care had been born out of sympathy or not. I only explained to Roger after he began staying with me after squash.”

******

The years have rolled by. Dean now has twin boys. Shannon has two girls. The grandchildren all have three grandmas. Until they are old enough to understand we will be gone to our graves.

My heart was split in two many years ago, but the two halves have learned to live with each other and make me the happiest man alive.