At 25, I walked down the aisle—twice—with a guy I knew was cheating on me.
The first time was in Los Angeles, in my sister's backyard in front of family and friends. We stood beneath the chuppa. Keith stomped on the glass. As we danced, the shards worked their way into my heart.
Since his mother was unable to fly across the country, we said our vows again two weeks later. This time the ceremony was in a church in Ohio, followed by a small reception at his house, complete with stews simmering in crockpots and homemade pies. I stood on the outside listening to the small-town gossip, trying to figure out why I was at this event.
Especially when later that evening, I heard my newlywed husband talking on the phone. He looked up with a sheepish grin and said, "It's about a gig we have in two weeks. In San Jose. You should come."
Maybe it was just my imagination. Perhaps the woman he was talking to was just the lead singer in his band and nothing more. Besides, I was now his wife. He had promised to love me until death do us part. And that had to count for something, didn't it?
Two weeks later, I took the longest road trip of my life. It was only a five-hour drive, but during that time, I relived every second of our relationship in what felt like slow motion. The nights I lie awake listening for his car to pull into the driveway. Watching every girl in the bar watching him play the drums. Paying every bill, even the ones he ran up during his so-called paying gigs. Wondering. Waiting. Worrying.
The moment I walked into his hotel room, I knew that nothing had changed. My heart fell onto the floor as soon as I saw her open suitcase in the corner. Keith quickly took me in his arms and tried to explain his way out of the obvious.
"I'm so sorry," he said. "She has me under some kind of spell."
Like the kind that takes place under the covers, I wanted to say. But I didn't. I just listened to him apologize. He swore he never meant to hurt me. He had simply meant to help her find her musical voice and it just happened. We both cried, for different reasons.
I went back to our rented house. For a while, I even took care of his dog. I dropped down to 99 pounds. One day, Keith picked up his belongings—squashing what little hope I clung to—while I was at work. A note on the kitchen table said, "Someday, we'll be together again."
I questioned myself on a daily basis. How could I, an educated woman, fall for this guy? Why, when I knew from the start it was all wrong, did I even marry him?
The upside to our matrimonial mess was that it made me face certain truths about myself, truths that I may not have gotten to until later in life. Things like having no self-confidence and being desperate for a lifelong partner.
Although feminism had arrived, I wanted what my parents had: a three-bedroom house, with 2.5 children, a manicured lawn, Sunday dinners. I thought I had become the person I was meant to be, but in our twenties, most of us are still finding our way, although we don't always know it.
It wasn't that he was such a bad guy. In fact, Keith had a very big heart when it came to strangers and those down on their luck. For several months before we were married, a homeless man lived in our garage. I cooked, while the two of them jammed and talked into the wee hours. He always thrived on helping others. He just wasn't into helping us.
As the years passed, we actually remained friends until he dropped off my radar. I heard he married (not the witch in the hotel room), gave up music and was forced to work in a gas station in order to pay the bills. I also knew he never gave up on strangers, and in a completely bizarre twist years later, I heard he was murdered in his driveway by someone he had befriended.
I cried that day and for several days after. Keith had been a part of my life and I always thought we would stay in touch with each other.
Once again, I felt cheated. I wanted him to know I was doing just fine. That if he needed help, I was there for him. And to thank him. Thank him for leaving me and giving me a path back to myself.