Hugo and I had been dating for a year when I first cheated on him. It was more than just sex: I had fallen in love with this tall, mysterious boy who wrote me stories and shared my taste for dive bars and whiskey. I met Henry at a dinner party. He told dumb dirty jokes and I drank half my weight in Prosecco. Somehow, we both found each other charming. Hugo was there, watching from the couch, suspecting nothing—kind and good-hearted soul that he is.
The next day, I did something uncharacteristic of me: I asked Henry out. I didn’t think it was a date. I wasn’t a cheater. I loved my boyfriend. But I couldn’t deny the way I felt on my first time out with Henry mocking the exhibits at the MCA. If I had suppressed my desire that he kiss me, I was electrified when he did. I didn’t feel guilty until later. At the time I just felt something not unlike champagne bubbles in my stomach. Later, when he walked me back to my boyfriend’s apartment and kissed me again outside the door, that’s when I realized what I had done. It wasn’t a drunken night of sloppy sex. It wasn’t a fling or one-night stand. And it wasn’t a mistake.
Over the next few weeks, Henry and I had secret dates at North Side bars where no one would know us. We went for coffee and held hands under the table. The longer this went on, the worse I felt. I was a cheater and a liar. I thought I knew myself better.
I had never broken up with anyone before; I just half-heartedly let them fizzle out through weeks of unreturned phone calls and general neglect. But my relationship with Hugo was unlike anything I had encountered—first love and all.
Karma finally caught up with me. I ran into both boys at our local bar. Henry was angry that I was evading responsibility; Hugo was confused about why I was pulling away. So on that snowy night in February, I got drunk and ripped the Band-Aid off. On the walk back to Hugo’s place, I spared no detail about the relationship budding between Henry and me. I thought that the cruel truth would make him hate me instead of just hurt. My plan backfired. He said the fear of losing me made him love me more than ever. I didn’t know it was possible to love someone who did such horrible things, but I suppose we love each other for who we are and not the things we do.
I suffered from an inability to separate my body, heart and mind. My thoughts belonged to Hugo, while my heart slowly drained away to another man. My body bounced between the two. Every day, I watched more of myself fall.
Being with Henry was wonderful and terrible. I loved him, yet hated myself. I was a cheater. I had cheated on Hugo, and now my inability to clear my conscience cheated Henry. I drank more than I should and cried when I was alone. Hugo fought tooth and nail for me, probably more than he should have.
I know now that I am weak. About a month after I started seeing Henry, I made the decision to rekindle things with my boyfriend. Except that during the next six months we were together, I cheated on him again—every day as I questioned my decision, imagining alternative endings. The relationship had been thrown out of balance. We didn’t trust each other anymore.
There is no separating love and torment. I could not love the world as I wished without injuring it as well, for when a new desire is awakened, another heart is broken.
On Sunday, I dreamt of Henry. Although I think about him often, it had been months since he seemed so vivid, so real. I woke with a deep sense of loss. The feeling intensified throughout the day as winds picked up. Finally, in the evening, I broke down. I went through the love letters we sent each other during that cold month of courtship, working backwards through the relationship. When I reached the first message, I noted the date. It had been exactly one year from the day I met him at the dinner party. The coincidence seemed meaningful—a sign. I wanted to reach out to him again but knew he’d never respond. And then I wept for all of us. My tears fell for hearts I had broken and for my own, forlorn, fractured heart, knowing that the memory must have faded from him now. Yet one year later, I still long for him. The unfulfilled future is my own creation of unlikely possibilities and unreasonable expectations. This I know, yet I cannot release regret. I thought time and distance and the silence between us would mend my conflicted heart. Really, the emotions I tried to dismiss infect me like a virus that goes untreated. I am sick of my own romanticism.
Unfortunately, in the end I can’t apologize anymore. At some point, I have to forgive myself even if they won’t. I just hope karma isn’t as big a bitch as I have been. (Connie Sumner)