"It's true love," my ex-husband said about his new girlfriend. Of course, he had spoken the same words to me. And for decades, I arranged my entire existence and created our family around that pronouncement.
I also trusted my brother-in-law when he pledged a similar allegiance to me.
When I first met my husband, I was surprised that he and his younger brother Jonah were more like casual acquaintances. Their parents had died years earlier and I had supposed that they would be tight, but that wasn't the case.
I wound up pushing them together every chance I got, and eventually they did become close, just as Jonah and I did. Jonah and I got along so well in fact that my husband used to joke that his brother and I should've gotten married. But our relationship was never like that. We were the same age and, if anything, it felt like we were twins separated at birth.
"I'm sad because I always considered you a brother," I emailed Jonah after my husband had left me. "I'm sure I'll be losing you in the process."
With my husband gone, friends also began disappearing, as did my kids, on alternate weekends. I was afraid Jonah would also be collateral damage.
Jonah, however, surprised me. He told me that he loved me, although he didn't want to take sides in the divorce. Months later, he even remembered my birthday.
"Happy birthday, Bevy!" he wrote from the West Coast where he had moved. "I think about you all the time. I'm here if you need me. I love you very much, that hasn't changed."
Perhaps my birthday won't be so bad after all, I remember thinking, printing out the email and reading his words over and over. It was something to hold on to.
A few months later, I was in my lawyer's office when he got a call. He put his finger to his lips and signaled for me to keep quiet. After a few instances of "uh huh" and "I'll tell her," he hung up.
"Jonah's coming to town to testify against you," he said, relaying what my husband's attorney had just told him. At the time, New York State hadn't yet adopted no-fault divorce, so in order to get one, my husband had to show fault and sue me. Even though he was the one having an affair.
"I don't believe it," I said stridently. "It's a threat. Jonah's got nothing to testify to."
"Blood is thicker than water," my attorney said. That's what I had thought, but Jonah had assured me otherwise. I've always been a trusting person, and I absolutely believed him.
"Jonah's like a brother to me," I said. "You don't know him."
Christmas came and Jonah sent a loving holiday message. More confirmation that I was right.
"You see," I said to my lawyer the following year, as we rode the escalator to the second floor courtroom on the last day of trial. Jonah hadn't shown up yet, and I was sure he wouldn't. But as we exited the escalator and rounded the corner, there he was, all dressed up, having flown 3,000 miles cross-country in order to betray me.
My heart began to race, and then I went completely numb.
"Blood is thicker than water," my lawyer said matter-of-factly. "You should have listened to me."
In the courtroom, Jonah told the judge about a verbal fight he'd witnessed, and an incident involving me yelling at my ex to take out the trash. The judge didn't think much of this testimony and my husband's complaint was dismissed. We wound up divorcing a few years later.
Was betrayal worth it? I wanted to ask Jonah that day in the courtroom. Instead, I kept it together and didn't break down until later when I was in the privacy of my home. During this nightmare time, particularly on the weekends when the children were with their dad and his new girlfriend, I rolled around on my bedroom floor, sobbing uncontrollably—trying to purge two brothers out of my system forever.
A few months after my divorce was final, Jonah came to town. He asked to meet and when we did, he begged me to forgive him.
"I want you to know how deeply sorry I am," he said. "It's a regret I will live with for the rest of my life."
He said he was disgusted with himself and hadn't spoken with his brother in the year and a half since the trial.
I believed him.
"I've always thought of you as a sister," Jonah confessed.
"And you a brother," I said, as we reached for each other's hands across the restaurant table. We talked for a long time, and when it was time to go, we hugged.
"I forgive you," I whispered, my voice cracking. "And I love you."
"I love you, too," Jonah said, his eyes swollen with tears.
Two years later, he came to New York again. This time he didn't call, even though he said he would. I never found out why, although I know he was staying with my ex and his new wife. I had let my guard down, opened up my heart, and Jonah had pierced it again.
I have a new life now and it's a good one. The old pain doesn't eat me up anymore, although I'll experience a flashback every now and then. I caught myself choking up a while back when my daughters shared photos of Jonah's baby daughter—my would-have-been niece—on their smartphones.
It's strange for my children to be part of a family that I'm not. And even stranger for the people I once loved to no longer be part of mine.