38. A Family Serving Time

38. A Family Serving Time

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Forgiveness

A Family Serving Time

Forgive, not because they deserve forgiveness, but because you deserve peace.

~Author Unknown

“I’m having an affair with your husband.” I clenched the phone as my stomach churned. Her voice was childlike, teasing, taunting. In the silence I could hear her breathing on the other end of the line.

“That’s impossible,” I uttered, glancing at my two children playing in the next room. “John would never do that. Why are you saying this to me?”

I heard her laugh as I swallowed back something sour. After so many hang-up calls over the last several months, I went numb simply hearing a voice. It was a sick joke. I should have slammed the receiver down, but something told me this was more than a prank. Why would she have targeted me for so long?

“I can tell you where you can find us together,” she continued. “We’re always at my apartment or in the park during his lunch break. I can show you cards he’s given me and I have his blue jacket. I’ve got all the proof you need.”

Tears blurred my vision as I began to believe her. There seemed to be no air to breathe. “Do you have sex with my husband? He works sixty hours a week. He always comes right home to me, so I don’t see how…”

“Oh, yes.” She laughed again. “We have lots and lots of sex.”

I could barely respond. Only one more question came to mind. “Does he love you?”

For some reason, that must have been her weak spot. She didn’t respond at first, just peppered the silence with her breathing. I heard a shuffle, as if she changed the phone from one hand to another.

“Does he love you?” I shouted, aware of both of my children standing in the doorway staring at Mommy as tears of bewilderment ran down my cheeks.

She paused again as if her answer actually pained her. “No,” she stated matter-of-factly. “He doesn’t love me… he loves you.”

I couldn’t take any more. It felt like a cruel game of cat and mouse. I hung up on her and brushed my tears away. Thirteen years of marriage were crumbling around me. Our little girls, Mariah who was two years old, and Vanessa who was ten, came up to hug me and ask what was wrong. I pasted on a smile and told them Mommy was fine and to please go back to playing in the other room. Once they did as they were told, I dialed my husband at work and exploded in a way I didn’t recognize. I shouted that I knew his secrets. I sobbed and asked how he could do this to his family. I expected him to say it was all some mistake, but instead he sounded defeated.

“I’m coming home,” he said in a tone that ran chills up my spine. “Just try to stay calm. I’m leaving now, so we’ll talk when I get there.”

But, my husband never did come home. Not hours later when I put the girls to bed, not in the dark hours of the night as I waited by the window, and not in the early morning hours when something told me to call 911. I had a cold feeling that my husband had taken his own life instead of mustering the courage to tell me his soiled truths.

It took hours, but the Mansfield, Ohio police detectives finally came to my house and told me what they learned. John had gone to this young girl’s college where she was on break between classes, argued with her as she sat in her car, then shot her multiple times in front of everyone. My best friend, my soul mate, the father of my children, was in the county jail charged with murdering his mistress. When his trial came up nearly a year later, his sentence was eighteen years to life. I remember leaving the courtroom on rubbery legs, choking back sobs as they led John off in shackles. His attorney came up and patted me on the back.

“He won’t serve that long,” he said, as if this was a football game his team had just lost. “With good behavior, he’ll be out in eight to ten.”

The pain went so deep that even after the girls and I moved from Ohio to Florida to be near to my parents for moral support, only alcohol and sleeping pills got me through each day. I was a single mother with a shattered heart and more questions than answers. I had two beautiful girls who were hurting right along with me. Mariah clung to me every day, afraid I’d disappear just like Daddy if she let me out of her sight. Vanessa was mostly angry, needing to take a break from school due to stomach issues. Counseling was merely a Band-Aid over a wound that went too deep to heal.

After months and months of falling deeper into depression, I decided to take my own life. I couldn’t stand another day of this horrific pain. I could no longer be a good mother. The girls would go to my sister if I died. She was married and had a lovely home an hour away in Orlando. The girls would have a better chance that way.

On the last night of my life, I placed my hands together and prayed that God would give me the strength for what I was about to do. I prayed my daughters would one day understand. I didn’t want to feel anymore.

That morning I awoke to a peculiar sensation. I felt light, calm. I soaked in the sunshine spilling through the curtains. Something that felt like hope had sprung up, despite my confusion. Then a whisper spoke to my heart as if it were the response to my prayer the night before. It told me that suicide isn’t the way to stop the hurting. The way to stop the pain was to forgive.

It was in that moment that I realized the true meaning of the word. To forgive wasn’t a gift to John, but a miracle I could give to the girls and myself. It would free us of the past, release all the pain and open the door to a brand new future.

Forgiving isn’t easy. It isn’t something you decide to do and everything magically goes away. It takes work and you have to fight for it. But if you hold onto it with both hands, you can free yourself from the prison you were locked in. The key is in your hand and once you make the choice to use it, you’ve done the most important thing of all. A new life awaits, no matter what you’ve been through, as long as you give yourself the gift of forgiving.

~Diane Nichols

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