When I found out my husband, Olivier, of barely two years had cheated on me, I was sure I would never recover. He had, after all, cheated on me with a girl 27 years his junior and I, in turn, had sent him horse sh*t, which, looking back, I still completely stand by as a “rational” decision. I was, for lack of a better or more interesting word, devastated, and the humiliation that came with such a blow is still something that, if I think about it for too long, makes me seethe.
In my mind, death was too easy; he didn’t deserve the easy way out. He deserved to suffer immeasurably for whatever time he had left on Earth.
the weeks and months that followed, I embarked on a journey. Not just a journey of myself, but a journey of hatred toward Olivier. I threw an extravagant divorce party at The Plaza, I went to New Orleans where I met with a Voodoo priestess to curse him, I headed to Cambodia and Thailand to “find” myself, and then, eventually, ended back up in Paris where our love affair had all started. And every step of the way I was angry, hurt, enraged, and praying to the God in whom I don’t believe that Olivier would be struck down by lightning or a rogue truck or something else that would maim him in a way where he’d be forever disfigured.
About a year after I found out the truth about him and his mistress, we started the paperwork for the divorce. He was still unable to pay for his half and I, having held out for so long, having thrown my weight around as the breadwinner, having made demands and threats, finally decided I would pay for it. In my mind, I’d be able to hold that over his head, too, adding it to my prized collection of things for which he couldn’t do right. To say I relished in this thought would be an understatement; it practically made me orgasm.
As usual, Olivier was late in getting his end of the paperwork done. Although the reason for this was mostly due to his laziness, he also needed a translator for the legal jargon. Annoyed and frustrated, still hoping he’d accidentally light his face on fire with his next cigarette, I offered to translate the words for him. It was mid-January. We hadn’t spoken civilly in well over a year.
It was during that conversation, as we added up what funds he didn’t have, what expenses he couldn’t pay, what financial obligations he’d never tend to, that I realized something: I didn’t deserve Olivier, and he didn’t deserve me.
Deserve is a funny word. At the end of the day, who deserves what will always be up for debate. Do I deserve that glass of wine because I hit all my deadlines? Do I deserve a life better than his because I work harder? What does it mean to deserve?
Love is something I second guess; love is something on which I wouldn’t place a single bet. Olivier would bet it all on love.
Olivier loves without prejudices; he loves wholly, almost like that of a child hell bent on soulmates and unicorns and happily ever after. He loves in a way in which I’m incapable. I, on the other hand, am steeped in ambition and overwork myself to the point where, sometimes, I make myself sick. I put stock in things like success and recognition: two things about which he cares nothing.
As much as it pains me, we were—and are—too different. I couldn’t appreciate the good in him, and he couldn’t appreciate the good in me and that, in my mind, made us undeserving of each other. You don’t deserve what you can’t appreciate.
In that conversation, while I listened to him fumble, as he far too often did, I was overcome—by what is still something I’m trying to work out in my brain.
But despite that fact, it doesn’t diminish the way we felt for each other. I did love him, as much as I could. And he loved me with everything he had, which was far more than I was able to give.
My father always said that it takes one hell of a strong person to concede in the face of pain. It takes a deep understanding of humanity and all its flaws to be able to look a situation in the eye and admit that it was a mistake. This was Olivier and me: A mistake. Not a regrettable one, but a mistake all the same. We were wrong for each from the get-go. It just took a pile of sh*t, both literally and metaphorically, to realize it.
When I said, “I forgive you” to Olivier in that phone call, the words fell out of my mouth before I realized what had happened. When this was followed by silence, I said it again. Then again. Then again. I couldn’t stop saying it: I forgive you. I forgive you. I forgive you. I f*cking forgive you!
I never thought I could forgive my cheating husband. I’d been wandering around the world wounded and broken. I’d been drowning myself in oceans and seas a world away. I’d been standing in jungles cursing his name. I’d thrown myself to the sharks, literally in Cape Town, all in this angry vein against a man whom I should have never been with in the first place.
I loved him, and he had loved me. Shouldn’t that count for something? Shouldn’t that entire experience, the good and bad of it all, be something worth pocketing and treasuring? Yes.
I have been in love three times in my life. And just like my other two loves, I’ll never be able to accurately put into words my love for Olivier. Honestly, I don’t want to be able to; love shouldn’t be reduced to the words, no matter who might be writing them.
I forgave him because I loved him. Because I still love him. Because I will always love him and care for him. Because this is what we deserve.
I was in Paris in April, and I met up with Olivier. We went to lunch in Montmartre and had confit de canard, as we had 100 times before in that neighborhood, and it felt good. When he walked across the street to meet me—running ridiculously late as always—I was overwhelmed with a rush happiness. I was happy we were no longer together; I was happy to be his friend because being buddies was where we always excelled.
And when my breath temporarily escaped me when I first laid eyes on him, I knew it was relief—relief that my breathing was no longer impaired by anger. I could breathe deeply for the first time since the fall of 2015.
I know forgiveness is hard. F*ck, it’s more than hard—in many situations it’s impossible. I never expected to forgive Olivier. I never expected to breathe deeply again. Ever. But what it came down to was, I deserve to breathe deeply, I deserve to be free of anger, and he and I deserve to be in each other’s lives. I wish it were more complicated than that, but it’s not.
I’ve always believed love is fleeting, that it’s not permanent because life itself isn’t permanent. Since that’s the case—since it’s a fact that this won’t last forever—don’t we deserve to rid ourselves of anger? Don’t we deserve to love the people we have loved in the past and forgive them for their human indiscretions? I say yes.
As Oscar Wilde wrote, “To regret one’s own experiences is to arrest one’s own development. To deny one’s own experiences is to put a lie into the lips of one’s own life. It is no less than a denial of the soul.”
I didn’t always agree with this quote, but I do now. And I’ll be damned if I deny my own soul.