Bill Perez was one of the single men in our church. He was tall, and handsome, and well off financially. We were friends – he, my husband, and I – almost from the day my husband became the pastor of Gilead Church in Albuquerque. At that time Frank and I had been married for nearly four years.
When we'd been in the church for two years, Bill became my lover.
Looking back I can hardly understand why or how it happened. It wasn't that I didn't love Frank, for I did love him as much as ever. There were things that I could point to with which I wasn't satisfied, or with which I wasn't fully satisfied, but none of them were good reasons for going outside my husband's bed.
No, they weren't. There is never a good reason for such a thing. All I can do is make excuses, and I'm not going to do that. I did enough of that when I broke it off.
It was a Friday – I will never forget that. I'd met Bill at a restaurant for lunch and told him I couldn't continue as I was. I'd done my best not to cry, but I hadn't quite succeeded. "I care for you, I really do," I'd told him, "but I'm married, and my husband is the pastor. Your pastor."
"He was my pastor when we began."
"I know ... I know. But I can't go on like this."
Bill's face had registered hurt. I didn't believe that he loved me. He'd never said that he did, and all we'd had was, after all, the adultery. But I suppose rejection always hurts. "Gen," he'd said, the first syllable of my name having a soft G, "I don't see why not."
I'd shaken my head. "I don't know why I got into this. All I know is I've got to get out." And I'd suddenly gotten up, not knowing I was going to until I did, and fled the restaurant. And it wasn't until I was halfway home that I remembered I'd left my food sitting untouched on the table.
Frank was in his study when I returned to the parsonage. He devoted Friday and Saturday to his sermon preparation. I almost postponed what I knew I had to do next, and the sermon made a very convenient excuse. But I knew that if I didn't use my courage while I had it, I never would, and then eventually Frank would find out some other way. And I couldn't stand that.
I knocked on the study door with the little rhythm I'd developed over the years. We didn't have any children so it wasn't any sort of code – I'd just gotten into the habit and it was a little joke between us. I did it now without thinking about what I was doing.
"Come in," Frank called.
I opened the door and stepped in, shutting it behind me. I've seen many preacher's studies, and Frank's was about average. It was a big room, probably the master bedroom originally, but a previous pastor had apparently converted it. Frank's desk was to the left, against the wall, and there was a small table in the center of the room. Of course there were bookshelves all around the walls, and there were always books on the desk and on the table. Frank's computer was on the desk, and so he did most of his studying at the center table, which was of 2x4s and looked like it had originally been patio furniture. Frank had found it at a garage sale, and had stripped it down and stained it, and now it looked very nice.
He was at the table just then, in his usual seat facing the door. He looked up from his books at me. "Hello, Gen. What can I do for you?"
"I need to talk to you, Frank."
"Can it wait?"
I wanted to say that it could, but I didn't dare. "No, I'm afraid it can't."
He half rose from his chair, and gestured to the one across the table from him. "Please, sit down." Frank's natural formality reinforced the good manners he'd learned in his youth.
I pulled out the chair, a ladder-back chair that Frank had also bought used and had restored, and sat down. I moved a book out of the way and forced myself to look at him.
"Are you all right?" he asked, suddenly seeing something in my face – perhaps my eyes, which I realized might show the effects of my crying in the restaurant. They might be red, and my mascara might have run.
"Frank," I said, "I'm not all right. I have a confession to make." The cliché might have made me laugh were I not so terrified of what came next. "I have been unfaithful to you."
I've never had any sort of sudden emotional blow, so I can't say from experience, but I suppose that such a blow produces shock. Frank just looked at me for a few seconds, and then said, "Excuse me?"
"I've been having an affair. I broke it off today."
"How long?" The shock seemed to be wearing off, for Frank's voice was ragged.
I stood mute, as the saying is.
Frank wasn't going to settle for that. He glared at me and growled, "Who, Genesis?"
"I don't want to tell you."
The shock was certainly gone by now, and Frank was becoming angry. "Genesis, I am not going to accept that. You will tell me who you committed adultery with, and you are going to tell me now."
"Genesis – tell me who."
I knew I wasn't going to be able to keep the name from him, so I yielded. "Bill Perez."
I was holding onto myself by my fingernails. "Yes."
I could tell by the look on Frank's face that even if he didn't say it, and he didn't, he could have easily threatened Bill's life just then. "Frank," I said, "blame me. Don't blame Bill. I'm the one who initiated it." And that was true.
"I'll blame whoever I want to!" he shouted. "Did you at least have the decency to keep him out of our bed?"
It was a cruel question. "I guess I deserve that," I said, breaking into tears. "Yes, I..." I found I couldn't claim decency. "I always met him elsewhere."
"Well, thank God for small favors." And he got up so quickly that his chair fell over, and walked around the table and around me, and slammed the study door behind him as he left. In a few seconds I heard the front door slam as well. And then I laid my head down on the table and wept.
I'd told Frank of my adultery just before noon. By the time I came to myself enough to notice anything other than the wreck I'd made, it was getting close to two in the afternoon. I got myself out of my chair, and forced myself to open the study door and go out into the hallway. I decided to begin preparing supper. It wasn't that I was indifferent to the circumstances, but that I was, for the moment, numb. Once I got myself moving, I operated on automatic pilot – and that automatic pilot said "fix supper."
I had been planning on chicken enchiladas with green chili and sour cream, tortillas, and refried beans. I'm not a native New Mexican but I'd learned to cook several traditional New Mexican dishes, partly because that's what you find in Albuquerque, and partly because Frank liked them.
The familiar actions of cooking lulled me into – as the cliché puts it – a false sense of security. I began to feel almost normal, and I began to hope that it would be over sooner, and more easily, than I had feared. This was an irrational thing to think, for I had dropped a live grenade into Frank's life and the explosion was still reverberating. But I was not thinking rationally at that point.
I had the enchiladas in the oven, and was ready to go into the living room and take a break, when I heard the front door open. I glanced at the clock ticking on the wall – it was just after three. I went into the living room and found Frank standing there, looking lost.
"Are you all right?" I asked, exactly as I would have had there been no adultery and he'd looked that way.
He looked at me as though I were a cockroach. "What do you think, Genesis?"
His disdain struck me like a blow, and I remembered what I had never, really forgotten – I was a confessed adulterer, and this was the man against whom I had sinned. "I'm sorry, Frank. I..."
"Please wait there, Genesis," he said, with the cold politeness that is an insult. "I have a phone call to make, and I wish you to be present while I make it."
I clasped my hands in front of me, not knowing whether to be afraid, or something else – what else I might be, I didn't know.
Frank picked the phone off its charger and dialed without looking up a number. Holding it to his ear, he waited – while it rang, I assumed. After a moment he said, sounding as he always did, "Hello, Bill?"
My hands came up to my mouth, and Frank sent me a cold glare, and pointed his finger at me. I didn't need him to speak – I knew he was ordering me to remain silent.
"Yes," Frank said into the phone. "I wondered if you could come over to the parsonage. Yes, I've got something I need to talk to you about." He nodded. "That'll be fine. Thanks." And he hung up.
My hands were still at my mouth. "Frank..."
"Genesis, you have no voice in what is happening here. You have forfeited any right to contribute to the proceedings of this home. Kindly be silent, and remain available to my call."
It was as though he were speaking to a servant for whom he had great contempt. I would almost have preferred that he be violent – that he had smashed furniture, or even bruised my face with a vicious slap. This coldness, this impassable distance, was worse than violence. I felt as though he had cast me off.
And yet I couldn't blame him. I had betrayed him in a way that struck directly at his ego, his manhood, his heart – his very self. He had allowed me into his life in the most intimate way, and I had stabbed him under the fifth rib. I knew this intellectually – but emotionally his coldness was cruelty itself, and I felt it as though he were scourging me with scorpions.
I was in the kitchen when Bill arrived. I heard the doorbell, and then Frank admitting our friend. Frank's greeting wasn't effusive, but then he had never been an effusive man. I heard some pleasantries about the weather, and then Frank called my name.
I was trembling with fear. I walked slowly out into the living room, and something must have shown on my face, for Bill half rose – and then sank back with knowledge on his face. He must have known in that instant that Frank knew of what we'd done.
Frank didn't leave the matter in doubt. "Mr. Perez," he said, colder than ever, "we have been friends. I shall, therefore, not beat you up for what you have done. To assure you that I know what I'm talking about, I will tell you: You have been my wife's lover. You have committed adultery with her." He paused, and though I couldn't see his face I knew the frozen anger that must have been there. "You will leave this house. You will never again enter this house, or any other place where I live, or I will beat you up. You will never again speak to my wife outside my presence, or in my presence in any but the most respectful terms, or I will kill you. Do you understand me, Mr. Perez?"
"You have no right to address me in a familiar way. You will call me Reverend Carter."
"I ... Reverend Carter, I'm sorry—"
"I have no desire to hear hypocritical apologies," Frank said. "I simply wish to hear that you understand the conditions I have laid down."
I took a step forward. "Frank..."
"Genesis, you will remain silent." He never turned to look at me, just issued the command – and I knew I had to obey. "Mr. Perez, either indicate your understanding or I will evict you by force from this house."
Frank had always been a rather formal man. But this icy politeness was new, and I knew he was furiously angry, angry enough to carry out his threat to kill Bill. I caught Bill's eye and nodded, trying to get him to understand that he needed to just agree and leave.
Whether he caught my message or came to the same conclusion on his own I don't know. But Bill drew a deep breath and spoke. "Okay, Reverend Carter, I understand." He stood. "I do apologize – to you, and to Mrs. Carter."
"Very well, I have received your apology. Now leave."
Bill looked at me, his face blank, and then turned and walked out the door. Frank rose and turned to me. "Genesis, you will finish preparing supper. You will serve me, and then take your plate to the living room and eat there. When you prepare for bed you will make arrangements on the sofa in here."
"Frank, I can't tell you how sorry I am."
"That's right, Genesis – you can't." And he turned and walked down the hall and into the study. Once the door closed I tiptoed to it, and inside I heard the sound of a man who had held himself together as long as he could, and had now broken down into complete sorrow.
I got a shower early, and then got a blanket out of the hall closet, and one of the extra pillows, and fixed my bed on the sofa. We'd been married for six years, nearly, and this was the first time we'd slept in separate beds, never mind separate rooms. I sat down on the sofa and cried. I was desolate. I cried and cried and cried, and couldn't seem to find the end of my tears.
And then Frank came through the living room. He stopped and looked down at me. "I fail to see why you're in distress, Genesis," he said. "I'm the one who's suffering the pain of betrayal." And he want on into the kitchen, and I heard him pouring water from the pitcher into a glass.
He was right, and he was wrong. Yes, I'd betrayed him. I'd committed adultery, not him. And yet it was as though in the time he'd been out of the house that afternoon he'd turned into a dagger made of ice. Every word he spoke to me – and he hardly spoke to me – seemed to have as its aim the creation of pain in my heart.
When Frank came back into the living room, I stood up in his path. "Yes?" he said, with that awful icy correctness.
I would have had an easier time responding to bitter tears or ferocious anger, but I plowed ahead anyway. "Frank, I know that I've done you wrong ... enormous wrong. I can't shed enough tears to make up for what I've done to you. But remember that I broke it off on my own, and I came to you and confessed to you on my own. You didn't catch me in the act, and you didn't have to pry the truth out of me. And I think I deserve a little consideration on that account. Yes, I did a wicked thing, and sinned against you and before God. I committed adultery, and I abused a friendship to do it. But I have repented, and am repenting, of my sin. And I wish you would accept that."
He stood quietly until I was done, and then asked, "Are you quite finished?"
"Then, Genesis, I bid you good night." And he stepped around me and went into the bedroom, and closed the door.
Frank woke me up the next morning. I'd cried myself to sleep, and once I'd slept I'd been like a log. He shook me, and once I was awake he walked into the kitchen without saying a word.
I got up, and took the blanket and pillow into the bedroom and dropped them on the bed. I found a sundress in the closet and slipped it on, and went back into the living room in my bare feet, my hair loose and my face without makeup. Getting dressed was about as far as I could carry myself.
I stood aimlessly in the living room, and then realized that the curtains over the big picture window were still closed. I went and pulled the cord and opened them.
Frank's voice came from the kitchen – or perhaps from the dining room, since it seemed a bit faint. "Genesis, will you please come here?" I followed the sound of his voice, and found that he was indeed in the dining room, standing behind his chair at the head of the table. "Please sit down," he said, gesturing toward my usual chair at his left hand.
I did. I folded my hands on the table, and I suppose that I must have looked calm, but I took that position to keep my hands from trembling uncontrollably.
"I must, of course, resign the church," Frank said without preamble.
"Resign the church?"
"Yes. 'If a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?' Clearly I have failed to adequately manage my own household, for I neither knew of your ... adultery ... nor prevented it, nor stopped it." That small break was the first time since he'd come back the day before that he'd showed in his speech the pain he was enduring. "I cannot continue as pastor of Gilead under these circumstances."
"Frank, it's over. It's stopped. Never mind that you didn't know or didn't stop it – it's over. And I won't do it again, I promise you that."
"You promised me once that you would never do it in the first place. But that's not the issue here." He waved a hand, as though brushing away the broken marriage vows. "It is not merely that you carried on an affair, with my friend, under my nose. Do you believe, Genesis, that I can continue as pastor to a man who slept with my wife?"
I hadn't considered that, but I saw that he was right. "I don't suppose you have much choice, do you?"
"No, Genesis, I don't." And for once his voice lost the coldness, and became sarcastic. "I wonder why I don't have any choice."
I dropped my eyes, and tears fell on my folded hands. They were clenched so tightly together that the knuckles were white. "It's my fault, Frank," I said with a shaking voice. "I know that. You don't have to rub it in."
"Don't I? Let me see if I understand things correctly. Please feel free to stop me if I'm mistaken at any point." He paused, and then began enumerating his points, almost as though he were preaching. "First, I married a woman I loved very dearly. Second, that woman committed adultery. Third, this adultery was with a man I counted as my friend. And fourth, this woman whom I loved and who betrayed me counsels me to be gentle. I think the application is clear: I have every right to be angry, and to be hurtful, and to remind you of what you have done to me."
I cried as silently as I could, my shoulders shaking.
"Well, Genesis, have you no response? Do you find my reasoning cogent, or are there points where you would argue differently?"
"Frank, what is wrong with you? You never used to try to hurt me."
"Genesis, I never used to be a cuckolded husband."
How was I to respond to that? It was the literal truth. I watched my tears falling on my hands, and finally found something to say. "Frank, I would rather you beat me than treat me the way you're doing."
"If I raised my hand to you violently, you would feel better?"
No matter what I said to that, it would be wrong. I spoke somewhat beside the point. "It's not natural for you to be so ... so cold. You should be weeping, or shouting, or throwing things, or something to vent your hurt and your anger. This way it's..."
"It's as though you're living with someone who no longer loves you?"
"And what right have you to think that I do love you? What right do you have to expect me to love you?"
My voice was almost a whisper. "None..."
"Exactly." He rose and stood beside me. Out of the corner of my eye I thought I saw his hand move, as though he wanted to touch me, but perhaps I was mistaken. "I'll be in the study, drafting my letter of resignation. I'll ask you to take steps to find us an apartment. I suggest one with two bedrooms." And then he was gone.
And I was there, at our table, afraid that my marriage was over.