Tangled Webs and a Death of Innocence

Copyrighted by Lorna Tedder. Originally published in Life in the Third Degree.

How do I maintain my innocence when over half my life has been a lie? And not even my own lie but someone else’s?

Working Through Grief

I knew for years that something was amiss, but when you love someone with all your heart, you give them the benefit of the doubt. You shut down that niggling in the back of your brain that something’s just not right. You can’t imagine such monsters in his closet, so you tell yourself there’s no such thing as monsters, just an overactive imagination or an errant heart that should know better. You see the signs and you willingly ignore them because you simply cannot fathom such things in the person you’ve opened your heart to, the person you’ve committed your future to, the person you make a life with every day. You look the other way because you think your eyes are playing tricks on you. You see instead with your heart, where vision is often the least sharp. Your instincts can be right on target, and in spite of that, you ignore them because you love someone and want to keep loving that person.

But over the years, discoveries were made that were too blatant too ignore. My instincts screamed at me, and still, I didn’t believe them.

Before I filed for divorce and in the few months afterward when our lawyers were duking it out, I asked friends and co-workers if they’d seen anything amiss, anything at all. Had they noticed certain things? Had they heard the rumors?desperately needed some kind of confirmation of my instincts.

And no one said a word.

Now that the divorce is final and most of the people in my circle of influence know that it’s final, confirmation is coming out of the woodwork. At least once a day, someone new tells me that they’ve seen something or suspected something or knew something…but they didn’t feel they could tell me, not even when I came right out and asked. I now have names, places, approximate dates, detailed descriptions. Geez, this would have been helpful six months ago…or a year ago…or 20 years ago.

Actually, it seems that everyone knew or suspected the lies with one exception…me.

Now I must contend with two things that would drive most women to their knees. And yes, I’ve been on my knees.

The first is knowing that my entire adult life was all a lie and that I could have lived a different kind of life where I was believed in and supported emotionally and was something more than a business partner. But I know, too, that I learned so many skills on this particular path, so many lessons I’ll take with me into a new relationship one day, and that I brought two wonderful daughters into the world who have absolutely all of their father’s best qualities and few of his less enviable ones. As Vicki tells me, I’ve learned lessons at a young age that most people won’t learn until their 80’s! So I’m willing to see the big picture—that all that has gone before prepares me for what is to come. Except that the second thing makes it more difficult to pursue what is to come.

The second thing is harder. Much harder. I can understand one person living a deception and even, to an extent, using manipulation to keep that deception erected and strong, and yes, I can even understand—though not forgive—using lies to keep a wife fooled into staying and even convinced that all the problems were of her own making. What floors me, though, is that members of his family knew. All the while we sang “Happy Birthday” together and exchanged Christmas presents and watched Fourth of July fireworks, they knew and never said anything to me. His friends knew, too. At all the New Year’s Eve parties and restaurant get-togethers, they knew. In hindsight, a friend of a friend did try to tell me something once at a party when she stood in the kitchen alone with me and reprimanded a bewildered me. It’s wasn’t done out of friendship or concern for me, however. She thought I was a hindrance to my husband and told me so in specific terms that I didn’t understand at the time. His coworkers knew, too. Even on those nights when we sat at office Christmas parties and black-tie charity balls with his fellow vice-presidents and they smiled and patted me on the back, they knew. They all knew things, maybe not everything but enough to be another block in the wall of deception. They all protected him, at my expense.

And that’s what’s so hard. The level and extent of deception by other people.

I’ve always been a loving, giving, trusting person. I don’t want to not be those things. And yet, such long-term deception makes it hard to open my heart to anyone else. I’m gritting my teeth and forging ahead with new friendships, but it’s hard. The hardest thing I’ve ever done. I want to love again. I want to trust again. I want to give again—and get back, too. whether I can do those things depends on how much I can trust my instincts.

“Your instincts are great,” my daughter tells me. “You just don’t listen to them.”

She’s right. The instincts have always been there. I’m listening to them now and terrified of my hearing. The only way I’ll know they’re right is to practice, and that means pursing new friendships.

And being damned sure I’ve left behind all of the people who’ve deceived me in the past.