I was folding laundry in the middle of the day today in our bedroom. I had spent Saturday and Sunday in San Francisco because my best friend was there visiting with her mom and sister. After two long days of exploring, laughing, eating, and walking our way through the city, I wanted to spend this morning getting some errands and house things taken care of before launching into my workweek.
I was working my way through darks, carefully halving and pressing the fabrics together into neat piles. Then, I picked up a black t-shirt with a circular Santa Monica logo on it, its bottom seam cut away to make it into a crop top. But it wasn’t my crop top.
I held it out in front of me and stared at it for a while, my mind trying to figure out if the cut shirt was actually a men’s size XL that could fit onto John’s tall body. I peered at the tag that read “one size,” and then examined its petite “one size” further. This was a woman’s shirt, but whose?
I started walking around my house, the shirt balled up in my hand. I’d lift it up every few seconds to look at it, trying to understand what was happening. I stopped in my kitchen… Could it be a gift? No, he’d gotten me a t-shirt as a gift just last week. It was a “Murderino” t-shirt, after my favorite podcast. He had said it was “just because.”
I walked circles through the family room and dining area and kitchen. It wouldn’t make sense for him to get me another shirt, and one as random as “Santa Monica.” And why would it be in our dirty clothes, then? Why wouldn’t he have shown it to me, if it were a gift?
After all the pacing, I found myself back in our room, on my knees, audibly crying with shakes and sobs I couldn’t manage to control. I briefly thought about how we don’t have air conditioning. About how we leave our windows open in every room to ventilate the condo. About how I’ve heard babies cry and couples argue and TVs blare as I walk past other homes in the complex.
If this shirt was what I thought it was, I didn’t care who heard me.
Should I call him? No, he could easily deny it over the phone. Should I wait all day with the shirt looming nearby and, calmly as I could, ask, “Whose shirt is this?” when he walked through the door that evening? I could read his face, then — look into his eyes as he answered my question.
It was noon. I knew I couldn’t wait five hours, or more.
Desperate to hear this was only a silly confusion, I called, and it rang and rang. He just started his job last week, and in a part of my brain, I felt guilty for disrupting his second Monday. He might be in a meeting or working on an important project. It went to voicemail.
My hands typed, “Can you call me?”
Suddenly, I was enraged. I yanked every remaining piece of unfolded clothing out of the basket, looking for a pair of underwear or another unfamiliar article. Unfamiliar to me, at least. But nothing.
Maybe she just forgot her shirt. Maybe she borrowed one of his. My tears began streaming again.
I dumped the bathroom trashcan upside down and picked through floss sticks and dirty tissues and tampon applicators for any other damning evidence. Nothing.
I rushed to the living room, and Piper began getting riled up from my frenzy. She grabbed a toy and began shaking it violently, thinking we were playing. I opened his laptop, but I never use his laptop. I don’t even know his pin.
I attempted one bad guess after another before surrendering. I wasn’t even sure what to possibly look for if I got into it, and I knew he’s too smart to pick a generic pin, like our address number or my birthday. Of course, it wouldn’t be my birthday, I thought.
I started wondering about how it could’ve happened. He texted me the whole two days I was gone, letting me know what he was up to. How much he missed me.
Maybe he met her at the brewery he texted me about, the one he said I would love so much. Maybe he met her after he went to the golf course, when he was telling me he missed his golf buddy.
Or maybe he’d known her longer. I suddenly began wondering if he’d simply saved her number as one of his friend’s names in his phone, so when it lit up on the kitchen counter with a familiar name, I’d think nothing of it. Maybe when I said I’d be going to San Francisco on Saturday, he had her fly out for the night.
That would be very smart. And so very cruel. But I’ve seen others do worse, so it’s all possible.
After about 15 minutes of this — of my heart racing and then sinking, of trying to piece any kinds of hints together, of wondering if I could drive the nine hours to my mom’s house today with Piper if I needed to, of hoping he’d call soon and have some unimaginable but reassuring reason why a woman’s crop top ended up in our laundry — I remembered something.
My friend, the one I’d spent the weekend with… Hadn’t she mentioned something about recently taking a trip to Southern California with her family? Was it Santa Monica that they visited?
I remembered yes, they had. Thank God, they had. I instantly sent her a photo of the shirt: “Is this yours? Or your mom’s or your sister’s?” Please, please, please.
I clutched my phone and stared, waiting for the bubbles of her typing to appear. I knew her answer would be my answer. I had to start pacing again — I just needed to move.
A few long minutes later, my phone buzzed, and I swiped to open her message: “Oh yeah that’s mine.”
The relief, gratitude, and shame that hit me all at once brought me back to the ground and sucked the air straight out of my lungs. Somehow, her souvenir shirt had ended up in my bag after our weekend together. Somehow, this wasn’t the first assumption my mind went to when I came across her shirt.
The brain is so funny like that. I always think I’m healed from past hurts when things are going well. I always think I’m healthy and loving and trusting when the sailing is smooth.
My phone buzzed again, and it was John calling me back. “Is everything okay?” he asked. I could hear the worry in his voice. Yes, and no.
I quickly explained my mix-up and apologized for bothering him at work, and you know what he did? He told me he’s so sorry I went through that. He made a joke asking why I didn’t think the crop top was his. He told me all about the beautiful outdoors space he was standing in outside his office.
I told him, half-joking, half-not, “I think I should probably see a therapist again.”
“I’ll support you through that,” he responded.
This man. Oh, this man. He showed me grace and compassion to try to get my mind off the heartbreaking spiral I just flew through and out of. He doesn’t belittle me when I already feel so small. He does everything he can to cheer me up when I’m hurting. He loves me so well, even though I’m filled with pain and fears I can’t quite seem to shake.
I don’t have a pretty end to this story. I’m ashamed and horrified that I went there. That I suddenly believed the very worst to not only be true, but unarguably certain.
My biggest fear is being lied to, blindsided, and left; yet, I find myself believing lies I make up about scenarios that aren’t even close to reality. And so, I will be finding a therapist. I don’t know if it’s possible to ever fully heal, but I do believe I can work on getting to a place of feeling secure in my relationship and, more so, in myself.
It’s not that I want to fix myself, but I do want to feel better than this. I want to find ways to slow and quiet the insecurities that overwhelm me when unknowns pop up. I can’t do it alone, and that’s okay. Shame and fear like to be alone, but that’s not where I’m going to let mine live any longer.