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We were holding hands and walking down a street in the middle of June. It was around five in the afternoon, and we were walking our dog. We were young. Too young. We were on year five of a marriage, and I finally got up the courage to ask if he cheated on me.

“I’m not going to leave,” I cajoled. “I promise. Just tell me the truth. I need to know what happened.” It was a question that I’d asked him 100 times, and each time, he deflected.

For whatever reason, though, this time was different.

His hand clenched down on mine and then he told me. The truth that I’d known deep down for years already tumbled out of his mouth. It was a clumsy confession. And it was the beginning of the end.

I would stay for five more years. There was a lot of good in those years, but in the very end, I couldn’t get past the lie.

When I turn around, I can still sort of see the smoldering bridge that I burned down when I left. And in my back pocket, I still carry the lessons. Lessons of trust and faith and and regret and feeling like not enough. Timidly, I step through my new relationship with my eyes wide open.

I get emails pretty regularly from women that are facing the same plight. Women that are waking up with the broken intimacy of an unfaithful spouse. Women that are left reeling at the possibility of working through life alone.

I tell her that she’ll know deep, deep down when it’s her time to go. When it’s time to finally give up and walk out. I tell her that the door closing behind her is a beginning, not an ending. I tell her that the reservoir of strength in her belly is far deeper than she even knows, and that living alone isn’t as scary as it seems.

I tell her that she is fire, a wild, surviving riser, and that she is not defined by the actions of her significant other.

I tell her to make a list at the beginning of each day and cross off accomplishments like it’s her job – even if it’s something small like paying the trash bill, or making a bed.

I tell her to take that country song she’s been playing over and over off, and I tell her to find an anthem. Something that shouts the words for her when she can’t find them on the cold bathroom floor that she’s laying on.

I tell her to funnel her hate for “the other woman” into a storm of dedication to bettering her own life. I tell her to funnel that anger into becoming a woman with her chin raised, her eyes forward, and her regal shoulders thrown back.

I tell her that she is her own success story and that there are more smiles on her horizon then she can even fathom.

I tell her that she is enough. You are enough, I whisper. And the raw and searing pain of having someone just not choose her will ease. I tell her that her heart will heal and a pink scar will form and she can name it Triumph.

The ache in my own chest still hasn’t fully abated two years after leaving and seven years after that warm June afternoon. And, just now, the deep breaths and anxiety that accompany the loss – the physical and emotional loss – of a dream that I held onto so hard, are finally starting to lessen. My days are bright.

I am whole.

And I tell her that she’ll be whole again, too.

Rebecca Cooper

Rebecca Cooper-Thumann is an English teacher in a sleepy town in the midwest. She has published four novels and is currently working on a fifth. She has a precocious four-year-old son, she loves nachos and Jesus, and she tries to live her life every day rooted in courage and joy. 

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