By the time I was seven I was twelve —  I grew up so fast. My mom and dad divorced when I was three but for some reason they kept having babies, so I have two younger sisters. My mom was young when she had us and she wasn’t in any shape to take care of kids, so I was basically an older sister and a mother to my siblings.

Mom had a way of making me feel that I mattered — that what I was doing was important and that nobody else could do it. She was beautiful, too, which didn’t help. I was totally in love with her — the way she arranged her hair around her perfect face like a crown of laurels, the way she dabbed a bit of her rose oil perfume behind her ears, and the way her eyes looked at me like I was the only one in the room. I thought that it was a privilege to be left alone to take care of my sisters when she went out.

I met Luke when I was 18 and we started dating almost immediately. He was everything my dad hadn’t been: responsible, sweet, caring, and a family man. His family was so tight knit and I was immediately welcomed with open arms. It felt good to feel that someone had your back. In my family, I was always the safety net. Here, I was the one being taken care of, and I felt like I was a kid again.

I don’t think we ever considered not keeping the baby. I was 20 and hadn’t gone to college so I think the next natural step for both of us was to have kids. I worked up until the very day that I had Grace. She was beautiful and we didn’t think it was possible to love a human being as much as we loved her until Annie came along.

Things were hard financially from the very beginning. Luke and I both have steady jobs, but between the girls’ school, rent, and miscellaneous expenses, we were struggling to make ends meet. We were working so much that I barely saw Luke at all for months at a time, and I think he felt alienated — you know, living with three girls can be tough.

It’s safe to say that there was no time for romance. We loved each other deeply and were fiercely loyal to each other, but I think there came a day when we both forgot what we were being loyal to. We couldn’t see the forest for the trees, so to speak. We both respected the status quo but only because we couldn’t break the momentum — no alternatives presented themselves.

Until I met Bruce at work. It had been so long since someone flirted with me that I didn’t know it was happening. I blushed stupidly when he came in to get flowers but I always figured it was for his wife or girlfriend until one day, I found the flowers on my car’s windshield. He had written me a note asking me out on a date.

I felt rejuvenated. I had a hunger for life and something to look forward to every day. Life suddenly didn’t feel so difficult, and the everyday drudgery seemed bearable. The bills piled up and instead of drowning underneath the pressure, I suddenly started thinking that it would all work out. I felt beautiful and seen and important for the first time since before the girls were born. So that’s what it took — a little romance — for me to cave.

I also saw my body differently. For as long as I’d been a woman, I’d felt like a mom and a wife. My body served a purpose: it nourished my children, it worked, and it rested only when absolutely necessary. I felt worn out. Bruce looked at it differently. He lusted after it, he appreciated its scars, and he saw the parts of me that I thought were invisible. 

I’m not sure if I fell in love with him, with the way that he made me feel, or with the escape that he provided from my life. All I know is that I wasn’t myself. I was spending the little time that Luke and I had together feeling guilty and thinking that I was the scum of the earth. I think I was also probably acting differently; I felt that I had a new lease on life and that finally I was doing something that was for me, and not for my kids, my siblings, my mother, or my husband.

Bruce and I had been seeing each other for a month and we were planning on getting away for a weekend. I was being very careful with my phone because I just had a feeling that something was going to happen. I had been deleting all of my conversations but I guess I must have let my guard down.

I knew when I saw Luke’s face that I was about to lose everything. I never in a million years would have expected him to forgive me. He was so hurt that I momentarily considered killing myself just so that I wouldn’t have to face what I had done to him.

I don’t think that I deserve his forgiveness. I think we both stayed because of the girls, but I know he’s not over it. Every time I try to talk to him about it, he shuts down. I expect the pain now and I am not resentful about the way that he treats me because I think I deserve to be hated after what I did. 

But I don’t know what’s next. I don’t know how long I can keep being punished before he forgives me — before I forgive myself. I know that he’s not happy and that I’m not happy. I know that the kids notice that something is happening and they’re angry with us. I don’t know if we’re hurting them more by staying together or by separating, but I don’t think that the choice is mine anymore. I just don’t know.