Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Road.

This is the third post in a five-part series on my blog called "The Road." This series will chronicle the events of my life leading up to meeting my wife, the events that transpired after, and how it has led us all to where we are now. The series will end not by my hand, but by my wife's. Some of this will be very hard for me to write, and as a result, will be hard for you to read. Some of you will think differently of me afterwards, but I ask that you please don't get halfway through this series and stop. In the end, maybe you will find something here that let's you know you aren't alone. The roads we travel are unique, but they intersect often. I have changed almost all the names in this story in order to respect individual privacy.

Part Three: The Mistake

Author's Note: This was an extremely difficult thing to write and post. I've never admitted any of this in such a public forum, even though many of you know the truth. I made sure Alicia knew this post was going to be part of the story, and I had her permission to hit "Publish." 

It all started with a Myspace message. 

"Travis, I don't know if you're joking or not, but if you want something to happen, it can, and I'll never tell anybody." 

Saying, typing, writing, or hearing the word "no," can be one of the hardest things you'll ever do as a person. Having the integrity to use those two little letters when no one else is watching, or when you know you won't get caught, defines most of us, and segregates us into two categories: the honorable, and the opposite. 

And on that day, when I was staring at those words flickering on my computer screen, when my right index finger was hovering over the "N" key, I made a decision. 

So let's go back a ways. I had been the youth minister at Okay FBC for right around two and a half years. The first Sunday I was to conduct youth services, I found out Alicia had been hiding her ex-boyfriend's number in her phone under a different name, and I called her out on it. Absolutely nothing was going on, but she was afraid of how I'd react, so she hid it. That situation kept me from reporting to my duties on the very first Sunday of my calling. 

I firmly believe Satan attacks those in the ministry harder and faster than anyone else.

This was just a small snag though, and otherwise our marriage was fine...to me. I didn't know it at the time, but Alicia was miserable. I was busy trying to control things, and she spent her time trying to find the courage to end a marriage she no longer enjoyed. Lucky for me, she saw it through. 

It wasn't long after that when things turned around and changed for the better. Alicia got happy, I was happy, and our ministry was humming along nicely. I had signed up for a new-fangled invention called "Myspace," and spent a lot of my time trying to find friends I had lost contact with. 

One day, as I came into work and checked Myspace, I saw that I had a friend request. It was Tiffany. You remember Tiffany from Mexico? She and I had kept in minimal contact through the years, and she had seen that I was on Myspace now and wanted to keep in touch that way. We quickly caught up, and I found out she was married, and that her husband had applied for a job in Muskogee, which is about seven miles from Okay. She asked me to pray about the job. I said okay, and we spent the next few weeks chatting. 

Her husband wound up getting the job in Muskogee, and they started looking for a place to live. As fate would have it, the mobile home right next to ours had recently opened up, and the rent was something they could afford, although they were hoping they could find a house. They didn't, so they rented the place next to ours. 

They needed help moving, and Alicia and I provided it to them. We took a trailer up and loaded their things in it, and in a couple of hours, a friend from the past that used to live three hours away was now living within throwing distance of me. I was excited about the prospect of reconnecting, and was excited to introduce them to our church, which they both immediately decided they hated. 

Tiffany and I still kept up with each other on Myspace, and we let them use our Internet service and washer and dryer when they needed to. There were also frequent visits to each other's houses, and all of this was innocently done. It got to the point where we were doing something with them every night of the week. 

And then I had a dream. In this dream, I had accidentally seen Tiffany naked. It was really funny, and I told her about it. She replied with a story of her own, telling me that she had thought that had happened once, because she had gotten out of the shower without closing the drapes, and I glanced that direction on my way out to my truck. I laughed, told her I hadn't seen anything, and we joked about the possibility of it happening again. Then somewhere in the laughter, a line got blurred, then it got crossed, and then there wasn't a line anymore. 

"Travis, I don't know if you're joking or not, but if you want something to happen, it can, and I won't tell anybody."

The story should end there. I type "no," we joke a bit more, things are awkward for a while, and the friendship goes on. 

Only I didn't type "no." 

Instead I told her I wanted to see her naked. 

I have a theory, that, as does most of my philosophy, stems from King of the Hill. You see, I spent all of my time as a young man working on my "offense" when it came to girls. I had no "defense." And so when the offer came my way, my guard was down, and I got sacked. 

The physical affair didn't actually start until a couple of months after that. We danced around it, talked about it, and then finally did it. I'm here to tell you, you have to kill a part of your conscience when you have an affair. You have to sear the synapses shut, and I can tell you something else, you don't ever get that part back. It's been almost four years since I ended it, and I still don't have that piece of my conscience back. I don't ever feel truly guilty about anything. I have to rely on my knowledge and past experiences to let me know when I should feel bad about something I've done. 

In a couple of months, Tiffany went through a nasty divorce that I was the sole cause of. She lived with us for two weeks as she looked for a new place. Then when she found an apartment, we fronted her the money so she could move in. I essentially forced Alicia to be friends with her, making her feel guilty about it even though she was suspicious of what was happening. I was in control, only this time the number of people under my power was doubled. I was intoxicated by that, and didn't ever want to give it up.

(Guys, I'm telling you this for a reason. I know you hate me right now. I know you do, and I'm sorry for that, but stick this one out. It gets better.) 

Pretty soon I realized that I had to resign from the church. I might have a habit of making God angry at me, but I knew instinctively that if I continued walking down the dichotomous path I was on, I was going to face the full-fledged wrath of an Old Testament God who had very little tolerance for the kind of hypocrisy I was serving up on a daily basis. 

While I was resigning from the church, I figured I might as well resign from my marriage also. I told Alicia I wanted a divorce. I spent that evening at Tiffany's house, where I tried to fall asleep beside her and failed. After a few hours, I knew what I needed to do. I got out of bed, looked at her, and said, "I have to hurt you." 

And I left. I called Alicia, I told her I was sorry, and I told her I didn't want a divorce, and I begged her to come home. And she did.

But I didn't tell her about Tiffany. 

You'd think that would have been the end of the affair, and that Tiffany would have been so angry with me that she never would have taken me back. And over the next few days as we fought via text messages and private phone calls, I resigned from the church as the youth minister, but assured the congregation that wherever the road took us, my wife and I would travel it together.

A couple of weeks went by, and Tiffany and I picked up where we had left off. We continued an off and on relationship, with one of us constantly talking about ending it with the other, but never actually doing it. I was drunk on power, and she was still under the impression that I was one day going to leave Alicia. I guess that was always a possibility, too. That is until March of 2008, when I walked outside, got in my truck, and found this sitting on the dash.

It didn't have the stains on it then. 

And inside? This.

The list and letter that saved my marriage.

Y'all remember the list I talked about yesterday? That's what was in that envelope.

And so, on March 13th, 2008, I knew who I was going to spend the rest of my life with. I keep that letter in the glove box of my truck. I take it out from time to time and read it, and I thank God for my wife, and for the pastor that married us, who made us write them. That letter is the reason why I have a problem with people who say "actions speak louder than words." I've never seen anything as loud as what I read on that day. 

It took five more months for me to extricate myself from the mess I'd made with Tiffany. Five months of me trying to figure out how I could get out of the whole thing without Alicia ever finding out. Five months of me controlling Tiffany, which was what I loved to do, even more so than physical aspect of the affair.

September is a terrible month for me. Traditionally, if something bad is going to happen in the year, it will happen in September. The year 2008 was no exception. One night, Tiffany decided she was going out on a date. I told her she wasn't, and she went anyway. She turned her phone off so I couldn't text her, and I sent her about two hundred text messages, and left her about ten voicemails while she was on that date. During that time, Alicia and I watched "Walk the Line," and I heard the song "Ring of Fire" for the first time in my life. I don't know what grabbed me about that song, but it spoke powerfully to me. The realization sank in that I was was pulling myself into an endless ring of fire that only I, with the help of God, could pull myself out of. That song set a chain of events into motion that turned our lives upside down at first, but around in the end. 

The next day I told Tiffany I was considering telling Alicia everything. If she was going to start dating, then I wasn't going to be a part of her life at all. Her answer was simple: "Don't tell Alicia, and I'm going to continue to go out. You can't control me anymore."

My whole life has been about control.

So I took a deep breath, I shut my phone off, and I called Alicia into the living room. Eye contact was impossible. I looked in her general direction and asked her to promise me that no matter what I told her, she wouldn't leave me. She agreed. 

Then I told her everything. 

There was anger, there were tears, and then she spoke the words, "Your dad would be so disappointed in you." Sticks and stones might break bones, but those words broke my heart. Nothing anyone will ever say to me hurt as much as those eight words, and yet I knew that it was a mere fraction of the hurt she was feeling. A few minutes later, she looked at me and said, "I'm going to be really pissed off for a while. But we're going to make it through this." 

I fired my phone back up, and sent one text message.

"She knows. It's over." 

And I was free. 

read to be read at yeahwrite.me