Michael Martin, “If Loving You Is Wrong”

“Are you coming over tonight?”
Her alluring voice came through the phone, a siren song
of smooth, sweet promises laced with unspoken risks. A drug that
jumped my heartrate and numbed my brain – the more moral aspects
of which were screaming at me to stop before things turned physical.
I’d stopped listening to that part weeks ago.
“I’m thinking about it. She knows around what time to
expect me, but I can tell her I hit traffic.”
My chest felt as if an intense weight rested on it, pressing
the air from my lungs. Was it excitement? Anxiety? Or both?
I wanted this. I needed this. Ten years of lifeless marriage,
roommates than lovers. My wife had committed numerous betrayals,
some of which I’d even found out about. If not for the kids, I
would’ve left long ago… I thought. I didn’t really know anymore.
I’d grown accustomed to the dull acceptance of an unfulfilling life,
an unfulfilling marriage.
Natalie had awakened something I forgot existed. I need this.
Surely karma would see what I’d gone through and consider
the balance sheet equal. Karma owed me this one after all these years.
My response met only with the sound of steady breathing.
Was she getting cold feet? I hadn’t considered the possibility
that Natalie would be the one to back out. She’d known from the
beginning that I was married; despite her occasional lapses into
religious guilt, she never wavered that this was what she wanted too.
The silence grew louder with each passing second. It was
deafening; I couldn’t take it.
“Are you ok?”
“…are you sure we’re doing the right thing?”
Was she referring to me visiting tonight? Or what I promised
to do when I finally spoke to Lydia afterwards? My heart sank; just
one hour ago, I was on top of the world. Everything I wanted was
coming my way. With one sentence, Natalie had pulled the rug
from under me; the solid footing I thought was there revealed itself
to be a lie.
How to respond without pushing her further down the path
of doubt? I didn’t know what she was doubting. Precious moments
ticked by; I was bordering on giving off doubt myself.
“I’m absolutely sure. I’ve never met anyone like you, I’ve
never felt this way before. You’ve opened my eyes to what is possible
when you find someone that you truly connect with. I want this
with you.”
“I know, I feel the same.” She paused. “I meant tonight.”
The pressure on my chest eased. She wasn’t questioning our
future, only if giving in to our urges before I ended things was the
correct thing to do. Back on solid footing again.
“If you aren’t comfortable” I lied, “I have no problem
waiting,”. I could only hope the prospect of not getting our hands
on each other would push her off the fence. Me, I’d long moved
past worrying about whether we should or not.
“Maybe that would be better, at least until you’ve left her.”
The cold sting of disappointment… my plans for the night,
my excitement, all vanishing as we spoke.
“If you’re absolutely certain that’s what you want… I won’t
press you.” I’d always been terrible at expressing my real feelings,
but I’d learned long ago how to manipulate others to get what I
want. Call it a gift from a less-than-stellar childhood.
“I don’t know.” Still on the fence… meaning there was still a
chance. “Are you sure she won’t find out?”
I had no way of knowing if my wife would ever find out.
“One hundred percent, yes. I’m certain.”
My heart skipped three or four beats when I heard her
respond. “Ok, come over then.”
“Alright kids, it’s time for bed.”
My heart was beating through my chest. Was it excitement
or anxiety? Or both?
Carl would be home in an hour; he’d left the conference
three hours ago. I knew exactly how long it would take him to get
back; I’d checked Google Maps to get the route time and to see
if there was any traffic along the way. I wanted to let him know if
there were any delays; Carl hated traffic. And I hated when traffic
stressed him out. I wanted him home.
One-by-one, I hugged each of our three children and kissed
their foreheads, tucking them into bed. With each bedroom door
I shut, my heart raced a bit faster. Carl had begun to act strangely
after he left for his trip. Nightly calls from previous business trips
over the years became one midday, ten-minute call. He felt distant.
I asked if he was ok. He wouldn’t tell me.
“We can talk when I get back.” That was all he would give me.
Subsequent texts offered no additional clarification.
I wished he would’ve just told me whatever it was. The
anticipation was surely worse than whatever he had to say, but my
innermost fears manifested worst-case scenarios – then replayed
them countless times in the days since. Things that could never
happen, like Carl asking for a divorce. Or worse, that he was leaving
me for another woman.
He was far too selfless for that. My Carl, the man who stood
by me even when I broke his trust. I didn’t deserve him; he was far too
good of a man. I couldn’t think of a better father, a better husband.
But… I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was
coming. Something I wasn’t ready for. My stomach bad been turning
for days. I hadn’t eaten; I couldn’t eat. The thought made me even
sicker to my stomach.
As I sat on the couch, my phone lit up.
Carl Calling.
I snatched my phone off the coffee table and pressed Answer,
trying to calm myself before talking to not appear as desperate as I
really was.
“Hey, on your way home baby?”
“Yeah… I’m on the road now.” He sounded hesitant.
“So, I’ll see you in an hour?”
“I wish. I hit bad traffic, and we’re barely moving. All lanes
might be shut down.”
An icy dagger pierced my heart as he recited his lie. All my
excitement at seeing his name pop up on my phone only served to
raise my spirits higher so that the emotional drop was even steeper.
Crushed, I didn’t know how to respond. How do you tell the man
you hope isn’t coming home to tell you he’s leaving that you know
he’s lying – without pushing him further away?
“Oh… that’s not good. Have you looked it up yet on
Google Maps?”
“Yeah, it looks like road construction up ahead. We’re backed
up for miles. It’s going to be a while.”
All my worst fears, the dread I’d felt for the past three days,
bore down harder than ever before. I’d been fighting my fears,
telling myself I was being irrational. Hearing how much Carl had
rehearsed this lie, though, cut through any delusions I still had left.
“Carl, where are you headed?” My voice was much steadier
than I felt, my fears turning into resolve as I spoke. The silence grew
louder each moment he didn’t respond. The only thing I could hear
was my own beating heart as I waited.
“What are you talking about?” His voice was slower,
measured. He was gauging how much I knew. 10 years of marriage,
I knew when he was lying, when he was trying to gain more time to
figure out how much he could still hide.
My heart broke as I realized he wasn’t headed home.
Wherever else he was going, he didn’t want me to know. Based on
his lie, he planned on being there for hours. Was he even coming
home? I was afraid of the answer, but I asked anyway.
“Are you coming home tonight?”

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