“My first instinct was to ignore the note, but all day it niggled away at me.”
It was 9am when the letterbox flapped. I idly opened the envelope, assuming it was about parking restrictions or something equally dull, and scanned the typed, unsigned note inside. At first, it didn't make sense. "Ian* is having an affair with Sarah J*," it read. "I thought you should know."
Ian, my gentle husband of 15 years, was apparently cheating on me with a mutual friend. Sarah was married to Ed*, and the four of us would often have dinner. She was fun and flirty, but I thought nothing of it.
Ian and I, both in our early 40s, were happy. We met in our late 20s at a dinner party, and afterwards he shared a cab with me. By the end of the journey, he had my number, and neither of us had looked at anyone else since – as far as I knew. We had made peace with our childlessness and were focusing on our careers, mine as a ceramics artist and his as an adulteducation teacher.
I assumed the letter was a sick joke – was somebody jealous? There were a few divorcées who might wish kind, handsome Ian was their husband, but Sarah? It seemed impossible. And besides, I trusted him.
My first instinct was to ignore the note, but all day it niggled away at me. When could Ian have found time to have an affair? Was there something wrong with our marriage?
I suddenly remembered a night a few months earlier when Sarah had got drunk at our place – Ed was away working. I'd gone to bed early and left her and Ian chatting in the kitchen. The possibilities whirred in my head, and by the time he was due home, I knew I had to ask him, if only to be reassured that it was a nasty joke. Ian arrived home at 6pm, popping into my studio in the garden to ask if I wanted a G&T.
"A weird thing happened today," I said, and handed him the note, expecting him to be angry or puzzled. But for a moment, I saw his terror. My legs shook, and I felt nauseous.
"I'm so sorry," he said. "It just happened." I started to sob, and pushed him off as he tried to hold me. I threw some clothes into a bag, and ran to the car while he begged me to hear him out.
I stayed at my mum's for a few days, ignoring his messages. Even Sarah texted me: "We need to talk."
"No we bloody don't," I thought. I felt as though my whole life had crashed down – our hard-won happiness, cosy little rituals, even the sex life that I'd thought was so loving.
Ian begged for another chance, and eventually I agreed to counselling. I couldn't bear the idea of life without him, and he swore we'd never see Sarah again. There was no explanation other than "he was flattered". It had begun that night in our kitchen. Sarah had confided in Ian about her marital problems and they'd kissed.
After that, it was texts and emails, occasional snatched moments, weekend afternoons when I thought he was at rugby. Each betrayal was agony. I felt so stupid – I'd suspected nothing. In a way, that felt worse. Because Ian had been so careful, the affair seemed less impulsive, and harder to forgive.
For a few weeks, I tried. But then one day, Ed appeared at my door. He had Sarah's phone, and showed me new texts between her and Ian. "I miss you so much." "I'll see you again soon, just have to calm things down a bit." While I could forgive midlife-crisis sex, I couldn't stay with a liar.
Six years on, I'm happy again. I met Michael three years ago. He has two children, aged eight and 11, so I'm a stepmother too, which has brought joy I didn't know was missing. Ian and Sarah split up after six months.
I never found out who wrote the letter – I suspect it that was Sarah, hoping to bring things to a head, but I haven't spoken to her since.
I'm glad, now, that it happened. Affairs are like a fire, burning through everything safe and comfortable – but if you're lucky, you can rise from the ashes and rebuild.
*Names have been changed.
This article originally appeared in Stella Magazine, The Sunday Telegraph (UK).
This article appears in Sunday Life magazine within the Sun-Herald and the Sunday Age on sale July 29.
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