Adults can be terribly stupid, reckless, and naive; that’s fine as long as they’re not hurting anyone but themselves. Unfortunately, supposed grown ups sneak around deceiving one another without giving much thought to what children see and hear. The damage that is done, cannot be undone.
Our bedrooms were across the hall from one another, with a shared bath a few feet between us. I liked being near my parents room when they were laughing and loving, but I didn’t get to hear that very often. Instead, I fell asleep to biting words and hostile resentment. I wondered then as I wonder now, if they truly believed their closed door kept the bitterness inside.
I must admit, as a child, I mostly placed blame on my mother. She was always in control, she set the tone and made it clear that it was her house. Considering seven children slept not far from one another, her house was always fairly quiet from 8:00 to 11:00 p.m.(the young ones were put to bed at 7:00 p.m.). That was until my father came home from work. As a restaurant worker, he kept late hours. I was never up to see him come in; I wasn’t asleep mind you. I would hear my mother verbally attack him as soon as he walked through the door. I’ve blocked out most of the vile things I recall hearing her say — it was mainly about leaving her alone to deal with us. He was a man of few words, English was his second language and he couldn’t always find words to express himself.
Physical and verbal abuse took place in my parent’s bedroom for the first eight years of my life (I’ve blogged about this in the past), but it was the final months that caused the most damage. I woke up one night to the sound of a man’s voice that was not my father’s. I laid awake quietly listening. It was masculine, but inaudible; from my mother I heard whispers and quiet laughter. I shivered in my bed and waited. My mother finally left her bedroom with a towel wrapped around her body. For some time, I heard only the sound of water running in the bathroom. The water stopped and a man I didn’t know, also wrapped in a towel, left the bedroom to join her. I was confused. I was fully aware that something bad was happening, however, I was powerless to act on it.
The same deception was repeated several nights a week. I told no one for fear of revealing a secret I wasn’t meant to know. I tried to push my mother’s cheating out of my mind, but it haunted me day and night. My mind wandered in the classroom and I became distant from my brothers and sisters. At night I went to bed, made myself as small as I could and mostly wept. My mother didn’t notice the change in my disposition; she was far too busy having an affair. An affair I wish I hadn’t witnessed first hand.
Over 50 years later I am still not sure how my father found out about my mother and Frank. It was messy for all of us for a time, but my mother and father eventually divorced and she married Frank. I never revealed to my mother what I saw during those painful months. However, I did confront my mother and Frank before they were married; I told them that I’d seen them kissing where the both worked. After all, I never did actually see them being intimate, it was circumstantial evidence that proved their guilt. They denied any intimacy, claiming they were only friends; more lies. I hated this man for exposing me to their disgusting deceitful behavior and I hated my mother for being a part of it.
When you’re eight years old and your innocence has been peeled away, you feel emotions you are unable to identify. I no longer trusted the people I loved the most. My father was abusive and neglectful, but I felt sorry for him. In my eyes he was a victim. Did my father’s physical abuse lead to my mother’s deception? Did he push my mother to the point of lying to herself and her children. It always seemed to be my mother who created the chaos and deceit. As far as I knew at the time, no one else in my immediate family knew of the affair. My oldest sister later told me that she had an idea that it was happening. She and my mother had a strained relationship; she hated her for valid reasons I won’t go into here.
Years of therapy revealed hidden anger and pain that stemmed from what I had seen and heard. I know now that extramarital affairs are common and that children often know that something deceitful is taking place, even if they were not exposed to the actual act. I wonder if mothers and fathers consider what a child might be going through when they engage in such deception? I don’t believe they do. They delude themselves with lies and pat themselves on the back for being discreet.
I won’t go into all the ways that my mother’s affair has impacted my life. I have made apologies to those whose lives I have hurt as a result of my own dysfunction and mistrust. The good news is that I am learning to trust again. I am learning how to forgive. I am learning about the power of a nurturing love. I am learning how a parent is obligated to protect a child’s innocence, not take it away. I am still learning why I have pushed away anyone who has tried to love me deeply and unconditionally. I also know that I can be quite righteous and annoyingly vocal. The work is difficult, but it must be done.
I have chosen to live alone as I work through these deeply rooted issues. The absence of drama at this point in my life is an absolute necessity. Keeping the noise volume low, allows for a more rapid repair.
It should be noted, I do not write to elicit pity, I write to enlighten those who may not know the pain they are causing or the hurt they are inflicting on their children.
Children of Infidelity . . .
I’m happy to see researchers and specialists are writing about this topic. I’m still not certain most parents recognize the damage infidelity causes.
Location this week:
I was away from home for few days in the Eastern Algarve this week. Not very concerned about COVID-19 because there are no tourists in the Algarve right now. I like to think I’m doing my part by supporting the Portuguese hospitality industry. If you’re looking for a beautiful, reasonable, quiet sanctuary, I recommend this place:
Espargosa Monte de Baixo & Art https://www.espargosamontedebaixo.com/en-us in Castro Marim, Algarve, Portugal