A Different Kind of Ruin

There are things I want to tell you about affairs. You are drawn to it for any number of reasons, but one of them is probably that it is forbidden. You forget why it is forbidden, or maybe you never knew. It’s forbidden because of the pain, but it’s not what you think. It’s not because of the pain you will cause his wife or their kids or your husband or his friends and family or your friends and family. Fuck them. You don’t care about them. You obviously don’t, or we wouldn’t be having this conversation. It’s the pain it will cause you. Did you catch that? It’s forbidden because it will cause YOU pain.

And that’s also not what you think. It’s not the pain of being separate from your lover or of concocting a problem you can’t find a way out of or of falling into a miserable depression when it inevitably falls apart or of never, ever, ever getting the fulfillment you desperately crave from him. It’s the pain of watching yourself transform into a liar, an adulteress, a mistress. It turns your soul pitch black.

You will never recognize yourself again. You will wonder what else you are capable of. Murder? Suicide? You will look in the mirror and see Humbert Humbert’s monster staring back at you, ugly, distorted, disfigured.

People will find out, and the truth will come to light, but your soul will stay in the dark. You will wear Hester’s bright red A on the outside, but you will also wear Dimmesdale’s A etched in your skin, over your heart, on your soul. Hester’s A eventually becomes old news. People forget what it stands for. You will never forget.

And that way Anna Karenina keeps her eyelids half closed after she does The Bad Thing? You’ll do that too. You will not look anyone squarely in the eye again. You will wear an invisible veil, not protecting yourself from the world but protecting the world from you.

You will wait for karma. You will accuse your perfectly loving, loyal boyfriend of wanting someone else. Will glance at his previous texts as he sits next to you on the couch and think you see a girl’s name you don’t recognize. You will calmly ask him if he’s satisfied with you. When he says he doesn’t understand, you will cry and release him to be with someone else. He will tell you that you are wrong, and you will not believe him until weeks later, when you glance at his phone again and realize that the girl’s name was the nickname of one of his male friends. You will wonder if the karma that you’re waiting for is already here, and it’s the waiting for karma.

You will have dreams about sitting down with your former music minister’s wife and explaining to her that you and her husband intend to eat dinner and see a movie together, but it’s not what she thinks. You will sit there with your red lipstick and red nails while she tries to figure out what you are telling her and you will hope she doesn’t ask you boldly if there’s a temptation there, because there is, and it is actually what she thinks. You will awake and wonder in the early hours of dawn if that really happened. It didn’t, but you will try to remember who else’s life you’ve ruined while you were sleeping. Then it will hit you: You’ve ruined your own, your own, your own.

It’s a different kind of ruin. It’s inescapable. It will be there for the rest of your life. You say you did it in the name of happiness. Bullshit. You did it in the name of selfishness, and the irony is that there was nothing more self-injuring you could’ve done.

You are scarred. By your own hand, in your skin, over your heart, on your soul, you are scarred.


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