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 happening at all. Was my husband determined to walk out of our front door after sixteen years of marriage to be with his receptionist from work?
He came back to me twice, the guilt of leaving his family behind weighing on him. He told me he wanted to work things out, but he never stopped seeing her. When our reconciliations didn’t stick, I sent him to a hotel to figure out what and who he wanted, so he could stop wasting everyone’s time. I prayed he would choose me again, but the hotel he stayed at turned out to be 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 conjure up. I said he was a walking midlife crisis, a pathetic cliche, and a living sexual harassment suit.
The day I asked my husband her name, I was starving for information. The need to find out more about the woman that replaced me had become an obsession. He told me her name was Michaela. He said she was younger than him, but wouldn’t give me her age. In his way, he may have been trying to protect my feelings, but more likely it embarrassed him.
“What color is her hair?” I asked him.
“Pink,” my husband replied proudly. He was clearly still smitten and always so easily impressed. There was no way I could compete with a woman who made him feel cool and young again. He bragged about going to clubs, staying out all night, and then hitting Denny’s at 3:00 a.m. 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. I did a search online with her name and found a few pictures. She had tattoos and the aforementioned pink hair, but her face was plain, almost homely. Still, she made my husband feel alive again, and I couldn‘t compete with that.
The morning I filed for divorce, I drove to my husband’s office to give him the news knowing Michaela would be there. She was sitting at a desk in the front when I walked in, 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 five-alarm. As we walked together towards the elevator, 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 our young children, Brandon and Shayne, to my estranged 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 my husband to cheat on her and break her black scummy heart. She took my place at the weekly Sunday dinner at his mother’s house, sitting in my chair as if I was easily replaceable. One night, my ex-mother-in-law took pity on me and invited me over. She said her son and Michaela wouldn’t be there because Michaela was sick.
“Good,” I said with my pain still fresh. “I hope she dies.”
A few months later, my now ex-husband told me the news over the phone during a conversation about the boys. Michaela was having bad headaches, and her doctors found a tumor behind her right eye on an MRI. She had to have a biopsy.
“We’re pretty sure it’s benign,” my ex said. “If it is, we’re going to get matching tattoos to celebrate.”
I didn’t respond. Of course it would be benign. Michaela was a young woman whose 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 tumor wasn’t benign. It was cancer that spread at lightning speed throughout her body, including into her bones. I still hated Michaela, 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 and mine, I honestly didn’t want her to die.
The doctors gave Michaela weeks to live. My ex told me later she’d also had cancer as a child, putting her at greater risk. During the next few weeks, he 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 still made me feel like throwing up. My heart hadn’t yet healed.
I’d carried my hate for Michaela around like a shield for so long I was comfortable with the extra weight. I no longer wished for my husband to come home. 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. Even after the death of our relationship, 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 alone.
It was a Saturday night when Brandon and Shayne came into my bedroom. 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, Brandon, 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 visited their father. She played with them and cuddled them and gently teased them. Now she was about to disappear from their lives. I didn’t understand it, and I wasn’t sure if the boys did either.
My younger son, Shayne, 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. Did Michaela have to die? Couldn’t a doctor save her? What if we wished really hard? Could we pray to Jesus to make her well again?
In their world, people didn’t just go away forever. In their innocent eyes, there was always hope when all seemed lost. 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?”
Brandon and Shayne’s faces lit up, excited to help. They followed me into the kitchen. I pulled a large basket from the top shelf of the pantry and carefully lined it with bright magenta tissue paper.
I turned to the boys. “What do you guys think would make her happy?”
“I know,” Shayne chirped. He ran off towards his room and came back with a small stuffed monkey. It was one of his favorites. He knelt down and set it into the basket tenderly, then looked back up at me.
Brandon and Shayne got their crayons out, and each drew her pictures. We stuffed them into colorful envelopes and put them in the basket. I put in some Clinique moisturizer I hadn’t opened with the wrapping still intact 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 Michaela and how surprised she would be. Before we knew it, we were finished.
“Doesn’t it need a card?” Brandon asked me.
I grabbed an index card and a black 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?” Shayne offered.
I hugged my little boy tightly. Neither of them really understood how final this was.
“How about...we love you, Michaela?”
“Yeah!” both boys shouted in unison. Brandon wrote it because he was the oldest and knew how to spell. Shayne added a smiley face and some X’s and O’s. We stood over the basket looking at our handiwork, not saying anything for a few minutes. There would be time to have a real talk with the boys, but they were caught up in that moment because they were helping Michaela feel better. It was all that mattered, for all three of us.
Michaela died about a month later in another state at her father’s house. She told my ex to thank me for the basket which the boys told me made her smile. My ex had a feeling it wasn’t the stuffed animals and pictures she loved as much as the idea of a truce between us. He may have been right, but either way I was finally okay with it.
I realized how much anger I'd misdirected. It wasn’t fair to blame 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.
Putting aside my grievances didn’t make me a hero. It simply made me human.