Ever since my mother dressed me in lace anklets and little white shoes and carted me around stores for people to admire, I was a good girl who needed to be bad.
I colored inside the lines. I walked with scissors. I learned to confess even the smallest sins by age seven. Through middle and high school when many kids experimented with their hair, their clothes, their capacity to hold their liquor and be screw-ups, I never tried a cigarette, let alone a joint. I was forming a bubble of smug righteousness to mask my confusion about boys, what it took to fit in, and why I didn't. My grades were in the top 10 percent of my class. Old people adored me. My parents were proud. But boys thought I was stuck up and frigid, and they were the only ones I cared about.
While other girls learned the hard way about blow-jobs and abortions, I fantasized about a faceless man coming into my room and undressing me while I slept. Even in my fantasies, I needed someone else to blame for impure activities. By day, I was the people-pleasing, hard-working, well-groomed, quiet daughter of a mechanic and homemaker. By night, I felt ugly and bitter.
After high-school graduation, I enrolled in a private Catholic college two hours away from home. I assumed that distance from my goody-goody past would allow me to remake my life, that I would finally be normal. But after a few dissatisfying make-out sessions at drunken parties, my pitiful self remained.
So I got my degree and landed a secure job, married a safe, responsible boy from home—the only one I had ever had sex with—and expected to live happily ever after. Respectable. Normal.
Fortunately, my career taught me to mingle with a variety of people and helped me gain self-confidence. With that confidence, however, came a nagging dread that there must be more to life than playing the adoring spouse.
The change I made started with small things, like my clothes. The baggy tees, sack dresses, and ballet slippers went to the Salvation Army. I flirted with crop tops and slimming side-zip pants, sheer fabrics, and tanks with matching bras. A few thong bikinis perked up my lingerie drawer while my hip-hugger briefs were retired as dust rags. Then I got highlights and an updated cut for my dingy blond hair. I considered getting a tattoo. Just as the ads say, it was still me, only better. I noticed the attention from men immediately. I liked it.
After months of flirting and my husband's own prodding, I agreed to try group sex with another couple. It seemed to both my husband and me that our marriage was normal, but boring.
We met with the other man and discussed the rules (no kissing), and the likelihood that the other wife would agree to it. Even if she didn't, we decided to proceed without her. She didn't, and we did.
Gaining courage from a few Long Island Teas that first night, I lay back and felt another man's hands roam my chest. Like a pro, I straddled him and removed my T-shirt to reveal a black, silk bra. His eyes widened, and he smiled.
The sad thing is that I let my ego talk me into seeing this man behind my husband's back to begin a two-year affair with him. We would often meet in parks, sometimes in dark lots. Sometimes, we’d pull over on a rural dirt road. Our lust was intoxicating. It fueled my dark definition of what it meant to be normal: to be wanted. Meanwhile, guilt boiled beneath my smile. I contemplated suicide. It would be so easy to twist the steering wheel.
Then I had a miscarriage. It's more common than people realize, and even more difficult to bear. The bliss of pregnancy was greater than anything I'd ever felt, and then it was gone like the high of a religious retreat. All of the passion and affection I had for my rebel life drained out with the amniotic fluid into my toilet. I ended the affair.
Almost two years later, I have a baby daughter. My husband adores her. His tenderness and support through my recovery and those early weeks of sleepless nights and baby blues makes me wonder how I could have considered a different life. But in order to experience real love, I had to let go of the pain I felt from his desire to share me, the guilt over the choices I made, and an old self wrapped up in perfectionism, romanticized love, and self-loathing.
When I look at my life now, it is certainly mundane compared to the soap opera of tawdry affairs. And I admit, when I've had enough of dirty diapers and household chores, the dark side still tugs at my brain. But experience has made me strong enough to resist it.
I had to be bad to be good. And being good and clear in conscience is the "normal" I seek in every day.
—Catrina Hill is a professional writer and mother.
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