3: Hiccups

3: Hiccups

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Think Possible

Hiccups

Anger makes you smaller, while forgiveness forces you to grow beyond what you were.

~Chérie Carter-Scott

Bzzzzzz… Bzzzzzz… Groggy, I reached for my cell. Caller ID answered my first question: Jim. Glancing at the clock answered my second: 3 a.m. Not a surprise. Jim and I had been dating for about a year and I was used to his late night texts and impromptu calls. I yawned my hello.

“Annie, I have to tell you something.”

“All right…?”

“I haven’t been completely honest with you,” Jim stammered. “I’m not the man you think I am.”

My stomach lurched as goose bumps chilled my skin. “What are you talking about? What do you mean you’re not the man I think you are?”

Alternate identities swirled through my mind — Married, Money Launderer, Ex-Con—none of which seemed remotely possible. When I tiptoed into the dating scene after my divorce, I quickly discovered that there was a world of liars out there. But I couldn’t fathom that Jim was one of them.

“There was somebody else,” he faltered. “I was unfaithful to you.”

Of all the “who could he be’s” tumbling around my head, “Cheater” was the last thing I expected. Jim had pursued me relentlessly since the day we met. His early declarations of love emboldened me to risk loving him in return. Jim’s kindness and devotion restored my faith that good guys were out there — that maybe he was the good guy for me. Another woman? Who was she? How long had this been going on? How could I not have noticed?

Jim’s voice pulled me back. “It was only once… a few months ago… she’s an old friend… I am so sorry. I never meant to hurt you. The guilt of this has been eating me up — I had to tell you. I couldn’t stand for you not to know. I couldn’t…”

“Do you — do you love her?” I choked out the question.

“Oh my God — no. Annie, you’re the love of my life. I’ve loved you since the day we met and I’ll continue to love you until the day I die. I’m so sorry for betraying everything we have — I just… I hope you can forgive me. But if you can’t, I understand, because I’m not sure I can forgive myself.”

“Do you know how much I want to hate you?” I asked as I hung up the phone.

A flurry of text messages came next, and as the morning sun filtered into the corners of my bedroom, we agreed to get together that evening to talk.

I slogged through the day, replaying our conversation and obsessing over when this “one time thing” could have happened. I vacillated between relief that Jim wasn’t an ax murderer and rage that he cheated on me. I desperately rationalized that he didn’t really cheat since we weren’t married or even engaged. I finally called Liz, my best friend, so she could share my misery. She was in more of a state of disbelief than I.

“But this is Jim,” Liz repeated. “Jim. He’s adored you since the day you met. He loves you. I really think this is forgivable. Don’t you?”

Forgivable? Not a concept I was eager to consider — especially since my divorce. My ex-husband was a bitter and controlling man and throughout our marriage I doled out more than my fair share of forgiveness. I was not about to endure another relationship where “It’s-okay-I-know-you-didn’t-mean-to” was the dialogue du jour. On the other hand, everyone makes mistakes, right? Was one slip in what was otherwise an incredibly solid and loving relationship reason enough to walk away? Was it possible to forgive an infidelity that I could not forget? Did I love Jim enough to risk trusting him again?

When Jim knocked on my door that evening, slumped in remorse and defeat, my plan to smack him across the face or pound on his chest in fury dissolved. “I am so, so, so sorry,” he sobbed as he pulled me into his arms. “Can you please forgive me? Please?” In his embrace, despite my hurt and anger, the overwhelming emotion I felt was surprisingly, hope — hope that I could get past this. The thought of bidding a permanent goodbye to Jim pained me more than his indiscretion. I wanted nothing more than to be able to do what he was pleading with me to do — forgive.

I realized I had to decide: was this moment a hiccup or a heart attack? Was this something I could put behind me so our relationship could heal or was it a deadly blow? The fact that Jim had come clean about his unfaithfulness of his own accord, when in all likelihood I would have never found out on my own, gave me some peace of mind. He had admitted his disloyalty without being caught, which helped me accept that his apology was sincere. Instead of perpetuating the betrayal by keeping it secret, Jim had confessed. I wanted to believe I could trust him now even more than before. “I want to find a way to trust you again,” I told Jim as he got ready to go home for the night. “It’s going to take time, and patience on your part, for me to work through this, but I want to work through this. I still love you.”

Jim clung to me. “I love you too,” he replied. “I’m so scared to go home. I’m scared I’ll wake up tomorrow and you’ll have changed your mind.”

“I’m scared of that too,” I admitted.

It took many months to put the “hiccup” behind me: months when I spontaneously grabbed Jim’s phone to check his text messages, months when I showed up unannounced at his apartment, months when I demanded proof that he was really traveling on business when he went out of town. But Jim gave me what I needed—honest answers to very pointed questions about “that night,” reassurance through his words and actions that he respected me, and understanding when I fell back into “where-were-you-really?” mode. Eventually, I stopped trying to catch Jim in another lie and trusted that he was the steadfast, honest, faithful man I had fallen in love with. It was a relief finally to forgive him, and with my forgiveness, Jim was able to forgive himself as well.

Four years and many proposals after the hiccup, I finally said yes. Marrying Jim is one the best decisions I have made. Forgiving him is the other. Our relationship isn’t perfect, but neither are we—neither of us is immune to some variety of hiccups now and then. But Jim and I have learned that asking for and granting forgiveness is essential to our commitment to one another. Loving again after my divorce was risky and forgiving Jim when he faltered was tough. But both have allowed me to find real love — love grounded in a trust that forgiveness is a gift we are willing to give one another.

~Annie Thibodeaux

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