How I Came to Terms With My Boyfriend's Infidelity -- and My Own
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My hormones were raging. I was also at a conference, staying in a sweltering dorm room in Tennessee. All around me, writers were making out, drunk, against trees while I struggled not to vomit from morning sickness. And he was saying what? From a distance, I now completely understand his frightened musings. But that night, a kindly university security guard soon arrived in response to my murderous screams.
When I was four months pregnant, we moved in together. After the initial frenzy of dog hair and rampant tirades of fear, we settled into a boring, pleasant chapter. We forwent parties to burrow under blankets with our books; we waved at each other over our laptops from different corners of the house. We seemed OK. Dare I say, happy.
However, given our history and the current environmental factors — not to mention the novel arcs — I knew it would be a miracle if something didn’t go wrong. A few weeks after we merged our belongings, Ben went as a visiting writer to Alaska and didn’t call all weekend. I’ll never know what happened in the tundra of Fairbanks. Most likely nothing. Yet as I sullenly accepted his peace offering of the ugliest University of Alaska T-shirt I’ve ever seen, I had to point to the evidence on our sagging bookshelf.
“It’s not if you cheat, Rabbit. It’s when.”
And yet: As I got more pregnant, the other people — dreamed up or real — slowly faded. Perhaps the reason was obvious. I could now no longer cram my feet into any shoe under size 10, and seeing someone else while your girlfriend is swollen with child is right up there with seal-clubbing in terms of vile behavior.
(Though, again, examples can be found. “Doctor Zhivago, ” anyone?)
But I would like to give us more credit than that. The more Ben and I got to know and love each other, the less interested we were in outsiders. Also, there was another person emerging in our house. During those strange days we called her Creature, and she was already taking up much of our attention and time.
Advice seeker, please note: Under no circumstances, in life or literature, is “baby” a recommended answer to “commitment phobia.” We still had enough problems for a good Cheever story, at the very least. At nine months, I continued to lob the occasional email at that younger man, and Ben was still pretty hung up on that last one. Neither of us could use the word “family” without stuttering. As I cleared the scarier books out of corner of the apartment where the nursery was to be (Forster’s “Where Angels Fear to Tread” was relegated to the basement, as was Lorrie Moore’s “Birds of America”), I trembled at the thought of our future.
As if sensing our reluctance, the baby was three weeks late. On the way to the hospital for induction, the father of my child looked at me a bit blankly.
“Are people like us supposed to be doing this?”
“No,” I replied. “But I’m pretty sure they do all the time.”
In the next 18 hours, there was enough gore and horror to send the bravest male protagonist running. Ben held fast. Then Creature emerged, angry, beet-red, and indifferent to our screw-ups. She screeched like a gull and looked at us with expectation.
Be better than the books, she seemed to say.
A foolish dream, but we’re trying.
Katie Crouch (@katieacrouch) is the author of yet another adulterous novel called "Men and Dogs," among others.