I hated her with every fibre of my being.
In the beginning, she was merely a symbol, a wrecking ball that invaded our family and smashed it apart. I didn’t ask her name for a long time. If I knew her name that would make her a real person who slept with my husband without a thought for his wife or his two young sons. In my grief was a speck of doubt that this was really happening and that my husband was walking out of our front door after sixteen years to be with her.
He came back to me twice, the guilt of leaving his family behind weighing on him, but he never stopped seeing her. I sent him to a hotel when we didn’t connect again. I told him to stay there and figure out what he really wanted so he could stop wasting everyone’s time. I prayed he would pick me, but the hotel he stayed at ended up being his new girlfriend’s apartment.
When I found out, I screamed at him for the first time in my life, my voice cracking as I called him every bad name I could come up with. I said he was a walking midlife crisis, a cliché and a sexual harassment suit because she’d been the receptionist in his office when he started sleeping with her.
One of the times we were together after the initial breakup, I asked him questions about her. I was starving for information, needing to know every last detail about this girl who replaced me.
“What color is her hair?” I asked him.
“Black,” my husband replied proudly, clearly still smitten. He was always so easily impressed. There was no way I could compete with this girl who made him feel cool and young again. He bragged about going to clubs, staying out all night and bla bla bla. It was clear he felt cheated by the years he spent with me and was making up for lost time.
They moved in together permanently after the last time he left me. By this time, she had a name, Michaela. I looked up her full name on the Internet and found a few pictures of her. She had some good ass and the aforementioned black hair, but her face was plain, almost homely. Still, she made my husband feel alive again, and I couldn’t compete with that.
When I filed for divorce, I drove to my husband’s office to give him the news knowing she would be there. She was sitting at a desk in the front, and when she saw me her body stiffened and her jaw dropped. When I asked to speak to my husband, she barely squeaked out “one moment, please.” I decided I liked her being scared of me.
I remember my husband appeared from his office almost instantly as if he was a fireman rushing to put out a fire alarm. When we were in seated, I turned to him with a guilty smile.
“Sorry, had to be done.”
He nodded his head. He understood it could have been much worse. He’d gotten off easy.
There were days I had to drop off the boys to them, my new ex-husband and his mistress. His patio was visible from the street, so I got a bird’s-eye view of Michaela interacting with my sons, playing with their toys and hugging them as they squirmed. If she dared to look at me in my car as I drove away, she got the pleasure of my middle finger as I squealed out of my parking space.
She came for my husband, and now she had my boys. I wished for horrible things to happen to her. I wanted Derek to cheat on her as he did to me and break her black scummy heart. She took my place at the weekly Sunday dinner at his mother’s house. One night my ex-mother-in-law took pity on me and invited me over instead when her son and Michaela wouldn’t be there because the girl was sick.
“Good,” I said with my pain still fresh. “I hope she dies.”
He told me during a conversation about the boys. Michaela was having bad headaches, and the doctors found out there was a tumour behind her right eye. She had to have a biopsy.
“We hope it’s benign,” my ex said. “If it is, we’re going to celebrate.” I didn’t respond. I was sure it would be benign. Michaela was in her twenties, and her luck seemed incredible in every other way. She’d lucked into my husband and my family and basically my entire life. What more did she want?
The tumour wasn’t benign. It was cancer that spread throughout her body, including her bones. I told my ex-husband how sorry I was. I still hated the girl, but the news floored me. How could somebody face death when she had her whole life ahead of her? As much as I wanted her out of our sons’ lives, I honestly didn’t want her to actually die.
The doctors gave Michaela weeks to live. I found out she’d also had cancer as a child, and they believed it was a resurgence from that episode. My ex kept me posted on her condition, not because I wanted to know but so he could have somebody to talk to about it. I struggled to put my feelings aside and be as supportive as I could, but listening to details about her made me feel like throwing up.
I’d carried my hate for her around like a shield for so long that I was used to the weight. During that time, I no longer wished for my husband to come back to me. He wasn’t the loving man I’d once known. In fact, he seemed like a completely different person, and I knew we were no longer compatible. Still, with the death of that dream, my feelings about Michaela never wavered. She’d stolen my family without a second thought… period. That made her enemy number one, and that would never change even if I was ready to move on by myself.
It was a Saturday night when my little boys came to me. They stood next to each other at the foot of my bed looking sad and confused.
“Did you know Michaela is going to die?” my older son, Brendan, asked me.
“Yes I do,” I answered quietly.
The boys looked at each other, then back at me. It was the first time I’d thought of the effect Michaela’s death would have on them. She was there on weekends when the boys were with their father. She played with them and cuddled them and gently teased them. Now she was about to disappear from their lives while they were too little to understand.
My younger son, piped up. “Is she going to be a beautiful angel in heaven? That’s what dad told us.” I swallowed my anger and sarcasm, and it tasted bitter on my tongue.
“Yes she is,” I told my son as he wriggled his way into my lap.
The boys were full of questions. Does Michaela have to die? Can’t a doctor save her? What if we wished really hard? Can we pray to Jesus?
In their world, people didn’t just go away forever. In their innocent eyes, there was always hope. Except this time there wasn’t any. My heart broke to see their confusion and helplessness.
I scooped up both boys in my arms. “What if we made something to help her feel better?”
Their faces lit up, excited to help. The boys followed me into the kitchen. I pulled a basket from the top shelf of the pantry and lined it with bright red tissue paper.
“What do you guys think would make her happy?”
“I know,” one of my sons shouted. He ran off in the direction of his room and came back with a small monkey toy. It was one of his favorites. He knelt down and set it into the basket tenderly. Then he stood up and turned back to me.
My sons each drew her pictures we stuffed into colorful envelopes and put in the basket. I put in some Clinique moisturizer I hadn’t opened yet along with a small African violet plant I’d been looking after. A few more stuffed animals made the basket nearly overflow. The boys eagerly chatted about when they would give it to her and how surprised she would be.
Before we knew it, we were finished.
I grabbed an index card and a Sharpie from my desk. The boys hovered over me around the dining room table.
“What should we write?” I asked them.
“How about get well soon?” one of the boys offered.
I hugged my boy. Neither of them really understood how final this was.
Michaela died about a month later in the state. She told my ex to thank us for the basket which the boys told me she loved.
I realized how much of my anger was misdirected. I blamed Michaela for blowing up my marriage when there were already leaks in the ship between me and my husband. She didn’t owe me her loyalty when she met him. He’s the one who made the promises on our wedding day, and in the end he was the one who broke them. In the end, though, putting aside my grievances doesn’t make me a hero. It just makes me human.
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