Life in a Skinner Box: A Memoir [Chapter 7.4]

The next day I got a text from him telling me he’d gone on a bike ride and talked to me, pretending I was biking alongside him. Another piece of me melted inside.

I’d developed a pattern of waking around 2 a.m. and conjuring Jonah in the dark. As I reflected on the last few months, I had to admit to myself that I was utterly in love with him. He was the first man I’d ever loved who loved me back equally, maybe more. I’d never felt such reciprocity. He had a blog, which only I and about ten other people read. He’d written about how books were catalysts for him. It hit me that I could never get bored of him. Not only was he an incredible library of facts and theories, but, as he rabidly digested things, he passed them through what I came to call his “Jonah filters” and synthesized them into something new that no one else could have put into words in the beautiful way he could. His mind excited the shit out of me. He was passionate about so many things and constantly searching for meaning.

The intensity and contact only grew in the months that followed, we began each day by sharing a song with each other. We read the same books and watched the Charlie Rose Brain Series together. We deeply discussed psychology, science, free will, religion, philosophy, mirror neurons, parenting, comic books, slash fiction, The Golem, and a thousand other things. He told me stories and we cracked each other up. He brought out a side of me I hadn’t felt since my days with Mindy. Jonah had a way of connecting stories he’d read, while studying German and Russian literatures, to what we were experiencing. It felt like we were co-creating a complex and special life together that only we would ever know and understand. We felt so intertwined in the same mental space we started joking that I’d “moved in.”

The volume of love that poured out of us, that flowed between us, was something neither of us had ever felt and didn’t know existed. I wondered if my connection with Jonah wasn’t the thing I’d always been searching for through religion, education, drugs, work, travel, and books. He filled the void that had always gnawed at me. All along I’d been searching for unconditional LOVE with an equal. I’d never felt it before. For the first time, I felt complete—overflowing really. All of these things kept giving me a feeling of wonder I’d never felt before. It felt like something bigger than either of us. I tried to rationalize what this might be. Jonah kept referring to my soul and his. I couldn’t help wondering if maybe there was such a thing as ‘a soul’ after all and it’s the thing I’m sharing with Jonah. What we felt went so far beyond anything else, it had to be “in another dimension,” right? Isn’t that what we do when we can’t explain something? Get mystical about it?

Instead of just enjoying it, of course I began exploring the idea. I came across a book by James Hollis, who is a Jungian analyst. He says, “Soul is the word we use to intimate that deepest intuitive relationship we have had with ourselves from our earliest moments of reflection to the present.” I loved this because, to me, he’s saying the soul is a relationship with our own minds or our mindful self. It exists in our awareness. He goes on to say, “Soul is our intuited sense of our own depth, our deepest-running, purposeful energy, our longing for meaning, and our participation in something much greater than ordinary consciousness can grasp.” So, it could be something—some understanding—we are always reaching for, but perhaps feel like we never quite grasp. Could this feeling of “never quite grasping” account for that mystical sensation?

Hollis also wrote, “Soul is what makes us profoundly human, and unceasingly drives us toward more conscious, evolved engagement in the four abiding orders of mystery in which our journey plays out: the cosmos, nature, others, self.” It almost sounds as if we have a relationship with each of these orders as we seek to understand them. It’s in that interface where we feel awe and wonder. This was the most comprehensible explanation for a soul I’d ever heard. I decided I was “okay” calling that “place” where Jonah and I came together in understanding and emotion the place where our souls met.

Oddly, feelings for Jonah had seriously affected my eating habits, for I’d developed this sensation in my stomach, like constant low-grade butterflies that kept me feeling full all the time. I had zero appetite. Fifteen pounds slowly melted away. Since I could feel him with me always—he began to be an elephant in the room with me and Chris, even though Chris didn’t seem to have a clue. It was time to get brutally honest with myself. I was desperate to have Jonah in my life in a greater way. Of course, I knew having him was impossible. Or was it really? All I knew was that I couldn’t fathom him NOT being in my life. My love for him was abundantly clear to me, and I knew it wasn’t going away any time soon.

It also became clear that I needed to tell Chris. It was the right thing to do for many reasons. I’d been a coward up to this point, lying to Chris under the guise that I didn’t want to hurt him, or Jax. I was being incredibly unfair. The truth was, I didn’t love Chris anymore and couldn’t see the love ever coming back. Sure, we could try to “gut” out our marriage until Jax went to college, but who did that really benefit? Chris was miserable—and I constantly fought like hell to NOT be miserable.

Jax made a keen observation just the other day when Chris left to play tennis. As soon as the door closed, I’d turned to him and said, “What would you like to do today, Kiddo?”

Perking up, Jax said, “Mommy, you’re always so much happier when Daddy isn’t here!”

Was our marriage really benefiting Jax like I’d convinced myself it was? I did despise being around Chris, but I didn’t hate him or wish him more misery. What Jonah and I had going was now more than just a harmless emotional affair. I’d never lied to Chris before and I believed he deserved to know the truth, if for no other reason than he could move on and have the rest of his life to find someone else and be happy. Selfishly, a part of me also wanted to be able to let my love for Jonah flow freely, honestly, and without guilt.

After work that day, I came home and confessed the entire affair to Chris. As would be expected, he was genuinely shocked, hurt, and angry. But, oddly, at first, I don’t think he believed this news meant our marriage was really over. He acted like this was another “wake up call” and that he was now ready to do the work that needed to be done to fix “us.” I told him repeatedly “we” were unsalvageable, yet he couldn’t seem to accept that I wasn’t going to give him another chance. He wasn’t hateful, though, which made it more difficult for me. It would have been so much easier if he would have called me nasty names and said, “I’m filing for divorce.” But he didn’t.

Almost every fiber in me was dying to just relieve his pain and take him back. My whole life I’d put other people, especially men, before myself…and I’d never received what I’d asked for, given, or needed/wanted in a relationship. For the first time, I was asking another person to suffer for my happiness. It was ripping me apart, but I fought to not give in this time because there would be an enormous part of me that would die if I lost Jonah. I’d reached a place where I couldn’t ease all Chris’ pain in life anymore. I’d just have to handle the pain that his being in pain caused me.

After my confession to Chris, he stayed in the house and continued to do things he thought would make a difference. Up to this point, I had kept Jonah’s name a secret, but it accidentally slipped out of my mouth one day. Chris did some detective work using my yearbooks and the Internet and discovered Jonah’s last name and work e-mail. On a compulsion, Chris sent him a letter, which basically stated that he “wished us well” and hoped Jonah didn’t break my heart. Jonah took this as a veiled threat that Chris may contact Amy now that he had his identity. Jonah wrote back to Chris saying he was prepared to end it if anyone else was going to get hurt. I went apoplectic. Chris had years to love me and change. He’d known I was miserable and never did a thing to affect that. I resented that he was now going to wreck my relationship with Jonah.

I confronted Chris and said, “Chris, this isn’t all about you. You can’t manipulate this outcome. I was so alone and unhappy for years and gave everything I had trying to make things work. Out of sheer self-preservation, I closed the door on us years ago, grieved, and moved on. The love is not coming back, and I’ve been honest with you about my feelings every step of the way. They never mattered to you. Now, I have fallen deeply in love with Jonah, and I know it hurts, but nothing you can do will change that part of things. You have to let go.”

Chris e-mailed Jonah again assuring him that he had no intentions of telling Amy. I think Chris just needed to be acknowledged by Jonah somehow. I was surprised Jonah didn’t jump ship right then and there, but he didn’t. He took it in stride.

Chris subsequently made an appointment with a psychologist, who diagnosed him with obsessive compulsive personality disorder. To his credit, Chris dug deep. He worked through an enormous workbook on self-treating his OCD. He let himself weep and get emotional for the first time. He confronted his fears head-on and pushed through several of them. I could feel the walls and mechanisms he’d built over the years crumble away as he opened up his mind and heart. It was simultaneously beautiful and painful to watch. I tried to be as supportive and kind as I knew how to be. There were many times I berated myself for not taking Chris back in those moments. I had a duty to him after all. I’d made commitments I should honor. But another part of me knew I’d finally glimpsed happiness for the first time.

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