By William Henderson
I sought D out intentionally, or someone like him. I logged into a Web site that boasts of more than 60,000 men online at any moment. D lived nearby. We listened to the same musicians; we read the same books. He asked me to bring wine and chocolate. His pictures did not do him justice. He had a British accent. He was interested in me. He offered me all he had. He asked me to date it out with him, to see where a relationship could go. My wife and two-year-old son were putting puzzles together a few feet away from me when I told D I would be his boyfriend.
Holly and I met in college, and I asked her to marry me six months after our first date. I married Holly because I loved her, but also because I was afraid of what not wanting to marry her meant. I’ve always known I am gay, and so did the kids with whom I went to school. I was the faggot. In fifth-grade sex education, when I asked if two men could have a baby, the guidance counselor made it clear that two men could not have babies together. I was convinced he knew I had asked the question, even though we had been allowed to ask questions anonymously.
After Holly and I stopped having sex, we decided to have a baby. We used in-vitro.
Holly and I were strangers who shared a bed and bathroom, and then we shared a son, Avery. She focused on our son, which meant she wasn’t focusing on herself, or on me, or on herself with me. She stopped seeing me, or maybe we stopped seeing each other.
It happens. Marriages, and the people inside of them, fade. You wake up one morning and you wonder how the person next to you got there. You don’t want to be there beside that person. You think there must be someone better suited for you out there. You think you got married too young, or maybe that you don’t have to be afraid anymore.
D told me one night that his mother had cancer. She had beaten it before, and she was planning to fight again. He told me he understood if his mother’s cancer was too much for me.
“As is,” I told him. “I promised to take you as is.”
Before meeting me, D had cut his forearms one night. One cut was too shallow; the other was too deep. His scars were thick and uneven. I always saw his scars when I looked at him. I always kissed his scars when I was with him.
“Why do my scars fascinate you?,” he’d ask me.
“Because they tell me who you were before me,” I’d always say.
“Scar tissue,” he’d say, “is stronger than skin.”
He and I didn’t reveal ourselves to each other all at once, but by volleying these brutal stories back and forth, we discovered that we each had shattered pasts, and these similarly shattered pasts probably made each other more attractive than we would have otherwise been.
I couldn’t see a life where I have to constantly come out. Me with D meant constantly coming out, and then explaining who Avery was. He is my son, but D wanted a legal tie to Avery. I thought Holly would move away once I told her I wanted a divorce. I couldn’t lose my son, even if keeping him meant staying in an unhappy marriage.
D and I started talking about marriage, despite my unwillingness to move in with him and how our disagreements were becoming arguments were becoming door-slamming fights.
Always, we’d make up.
“It’s taken me this long, and I’ve gone through so much to get here to be with you,” he’d say. “Why would I ever want to throw it all away and never find happiness?”
“You could find happiness,” I’d say.
“Could I?,” he’d ask. “You think you could find something equal to or better than me?”
“I think I could find something different,” I’d say.
“Usually, when you leave something good, you should have an upgrade in mind.”
Holly asked me one night if I was willing to try to conceive another child. We’d have to go through the in-vitro process again. Our first try had resulted in our son. She miscarried our second and third tries. I thought that a second child would be a good parting gift. No, that’s not the right way to put, but that’s kind of how I felt.
When I told D that Holly was pregnant, he was understandably upset. A decision to have a second child with a woman he still hadn’t met should have involved him, D told me. Wasn’t he my partner?
I apologized. Of course I apologized. But I told him I wouldn’t apologize for wanting to have another child.
He accepted it. Of course he accepted it. But something shifted between us. One morning I woke up and no longer recognized the shape of my relationship with D. Our arguments felt seismic. He started getting high several times a day. One night, he snorted pills.
“I wish you wouldn’t do drugs,” I told him.
He told me he would stop getting high once he and I lived together.
After I knew I would never see him again, I made sure he knew I had been married the entire time, not to hurt him, but to let him know how much I had been willing to give up for him. I wanted him to know how disappointed I was that he had been unwilling to make similar accommodations.
I told Holly the story of me and D in the middle of the afternoon on a Wednesday. We sat on opposite ends of a couch she and I had bought more than a decade ago – the first real furniture we had bought together – and we interacted as though we had not sat on this couch together most nights since the Saturday it had fit through a front door that was smaller than the couch is wide.
She took off her wedding and engagement rings later that day. I took off my wedding ring. Each time I had seen D, I had taken off my wedding ring, but I felt its absence for the first time the afternoon I sat with Holly, ringless.
I moved out one month later. I live less than two miles away from her. We passed our son back and forth, and after our daughter was born, we began passing her back and forth, too. Holly and I remain married. No reason to divorce until one of us is serious about someone else. Most likely our relationship is predicated on our sharing children, but partnerships are not as easy to dissolve as marriages.
Holly’s family urged her to move away and take our children with her.
“He’s their dad,” Holly told her parents. “They need a father.”
For a while, I think she and I were in shock. We interacted with each other as if we had survived something horrible. We did survive something horrible. All Holly asked was that I try not to talk about how badly I felt about my relationship with D ending. I would cry and she would ask me if I was crying for her or for him. She didn’t have to ask; she knew the answer.
One afternoon when Avery, who is three, and I were watching Toy Story 3, I cried at the scene when Andy drives away from his toys, from his best friends, and Woody sits up and watches Andy’s car disappear in the distance and says, So long, partner.
Avery noticed, patted my back, and told me it was going to be OK. I picked him up. He laughed, and I wanted to laugh with him, but I couldn’t laugh. He kissed my nose, and then he rubbed his cheeks against my beard.
“Scratchy daddy,” he said.
“I love you, baby,” I said.
“I love you, daddy.”
In time, the aftershocks of my affair with D stilled. Holly and I brokered an uneasy peace that has evolved into a stronger relationship than our marriage had been.
“I’m grateful for our rediscovered friendship,” Holly told me that first Thanksgiving after I had blown a hole in our lives. “I think prior to everything, you had had misery and unhappiness disorder.”
“That’s not a real disorder,” I said.
“Doesn’t mean you didn’t have it.”
“I’m sorry,” I said.
“Don’t apologize. Look at how far you’ve come.”
“I know,” I said.
In the months since the end of my affair with D, I’ve lost 60 pounds, started running five miles a day, and developed a six-day-a-week yoga practice. Find balance in yoga; find balance in life. My friends, and Holly, are tired of my telling them this.
“You’re finally who you’re meant to be,” she said.
“I’m sorry I made life miserable for you,” I said.
“I’m sorry I couldn’t see you.”
“You were not why I was miserable and unhappy,” I said. “You were neither the problem nor the solution. I love you, and I always will. I am glad we’re raising children together. You’re my best friend.”
“Thank you,” she said.
Holly and I are still a family, because families do not break; they simply untangle and rearrange.
Scar tissue is stronger than skin.