Some widows find receipts.
Hotels they didn’t visit. Jewelry they didn’t receive.
Or they find love letters. Not to them.
Shock, anger, disbelief, more grief. Sick with the discovery of betrayal. Embarrassed at having been deceived.
I already knew about the infidelities, and I found the journals long before he got sick.
He kept one journal just to record his chess games and his thoughts on chess strategy from tournaments he played.
The others were for the others.
When we first met, in the two years we were together before we got married, he wrote poems to me, for me. He refused to save them. Had some artistic, poetical notion of the ephemeral nature of the art, not unlike improvisation, which I was performing when I met him. So I got that. It’s there and it’s gone and you can’t recreate it. I remember only whispers (I first typed that “whishpers.” Ha.)
After we were married, there were poems written for other women. Women he told me about. Women he met in classes he took, or online.
Written in journals he saved.
Twenty years ago, when I confronted him, he raged at me.
Anger at being busted, I suppose. Fear of the consequences, I’m sure.
Once he calmed down and looked at me, he realized he had broken my heart. The heart he loved for its innocence, shown only to him.
He went grocery shopping.
Twenty years ago. I looked out the kitchen window of our townhome in a transitional, slowly gentrifying neighborhood and saw him walking home, down the alley.
Bringing me booze (Captain Morgan rum, to be exact – I had never tasted it before. Now, oddly, my cocktail of choice) and a balloon.
Leaving it up to me to decide if he was staying or if he’d go.
I decided he’d stay.
Who else would ever love me? Who else would ever be a father to our daughter?
But he didn’t stop sleeping with other women, until ten years later, when the then-still-unknown illness must have begun to affect his mind, and he came to believe that one of those other women was stalking him. Remotely. From a continent away.
I asked him why he had married me. He said it was because he could see that I needed to be loved.
Not that he loved me, but that he could see that I needed to be loved.
Which brings me back to the journals.
He asked for a journal to write something to our daughter before he died, but became too weak too fast to write much at all.
But he did write something, if not for me, at least about me. And it revealed that he did love me, after all. That he was grateful for our little family, our home and my care for him.
I have included an excerpt of that journal in the Epilogue to my book, because after everything we went through, everything we put each other through, especially after the Bulgarian, I thought he deserved to have a voice there.
As soon as I am finished transcribing that excerpt, the manuscript will be ready to show to my brothers (as a courtesy) and a few friends.
I know those friends, former colleagues, will be brutally honest with me when I ask if I should just dig a hole in the backyard and bury the book forever, never let it see the light of day, not expose myself that way (or any more that way, since this is whole blog is a kind of exposure) or if there might be a story there, some writing they’d recommend to a friend. Maybe even a good read.
Mike’s final journal, found posthumously, though sparse and at times illegible or incoherent, was still a good read. A very good read.
Because I forgave him long ago and eventually came to understand why he had done what he had done, and all the things I had said and done that made him feel belittled. Toxic in a marriage.
And when I found that journal, I found that he had forgiven me. That even with his increasing delirium, he remembered the earliest, best part of our time together.
That he appreciated the new kitchen.
That he still loved my roundness.
“Your head is round, your ears are round, your butt is round,” he wrote.
“Round, not pound,” because he knew I’d find it and that I’d need reassurance that he wasn’t referring to my weight.
He never, not once that I can remember, complained about my weight, no matter how big I got.
I’m grateful that he saw me lose weight, a lot of weight, before he died, and saw me looking more like the woman he married before all of it, and after.
And I’m grateful he left those words behind, for me to find.
Words for the innocent heart he loved.
The heart he broke.
And the heart he mended, through the journal his widow found, after he was gone.
Wishing you forgiveness, amends, comfort and love,
Your devoted, broken but healing, struggling but moving forward,