Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font  

Adultery, Page 2

Paulo Coelho

  Then they say: "I've had enough, I don't want this anymore."

  Some commit suicide. Others get divorced. Some go to poor parts of Africa to try to save the world.

  But I know myself. I know that my only reaction will be to repress my feelings until a cancer starts eating me up inside. Because I do actually believe that many illnesses are the result of repressed emotions.

  I WAKE at two in the morning and lie staring up at the ceiling--something I've always hated--even though I know I have to get up early to go to work. Instead of coming up with a productive question like "What's happening to me?" I let my thoughts spiral out of control. For days now--although not that many, thank God--I've been wondering if I should go to a psychiatrist and seek help. What stops me isn't my work or my husband, but my children. They couldn't understand what I'm feeling at all.

  Everything grows more intense. I think about a marriage, my marriage, in which jealousy plays no part. But we women have a sixth sense. Perhaps my husband has already met someone else and I'm unconsciously responding to that. And yet I have absolutely no reason to suspect him.

  Isn't this absurd? Can it be that of all the men in the world, I have married the only one who is absolutely perfect? He doesn't drink or go out at night, and he never spends a day alone with his friends. The family is his entire life.

  It would be a dream if it weren't a nightmare. Because I have to reciprocate.

  Then I realize that words like "optimism" and "hope," which appear in all those self-help books that claim they'll make us more confident and better able to cope with life, are just that: words. The wise people who pronounce them are perhaps looking for some meaning in their own life and using us as guinea pigs to see how we'll react to the stimulus.

  The fact is, I'm tired of having such a happy, perfect life. And that can only be a sign of mental illness.

  That's what I fall asleep thinking. Perhaps I really do have a serious problem.

  I HAVE lunch with a friend.

  She suggests meeting at a Japanese restaurant I've never heard of, which is odd, because I adore Japanese food. She assures me that it's an excellent place, although quite some way from where I work.

  It takes ages to get there. I have to take two buses and ask someone the way to the gallery, home to this supposedly "excellent" restaurant. I think the place is hideous--the decor, the paper tablecloths, the lack of any view. She's right, though. It's one of the best meals I've ever eaten in Geneva.

  "I always used to eat in the same restaurant, which was okay, but nothing special," she says. "Then a friend of mine who works at the Japanese consulate suggested this one. I thought it was pretty ghastly at first, as you probably did, too. But it's the owners themselves who run the restaurant, and that makes all the difference."

  It occurs to me that I always go to the same restaurants and order the same dishes. I don't even take any risks in this.

  My friend is on antidepressants. That's the last thing I want to talk about, though, because I've come to the conclusion that I'm just a step away from sliding into depression and I don't want to accept that.

  And precisely because it's the last thing I want to talk about, it's the very first subject I bring up.

  I ask how she's feeling.

  "Much better," she says, "although the medication can take a while to work. Once it kicks in, though, you regain your interest in life; things get back their color and flavor."

  In other words, suffering has become yet another source of income for the pharmaceutical industry. Feeling sad? Take a pill and problem solved.

  I ask, very gingerly, if she would be interested in collaborating on a major article on depression for the newspaper.

  "There's no point. Nowadays people share their feelings on the Internet."

  What do they discuss?

  "The side effects of the different medications. No one's interested in other people's symptoms, because symptoms are infectious, and you'd suddenly start feeling things you didn't feel before."

  Is that all?

  "No, there are meditation exercises, too, but I don't think they're much use. I only started to get better once I accepted that I had a problem."

  But doesn't it help to know you're not alone? Isn't talking about depression's effects good for other people, too?

  "No, not at all. If you've just emerged from hell, you don't want to know what life is like down there right now."

  Why did you put up with it for so many years?

  "Because I didn't believe I could be depressed. And because whenever I talked about it with you or with other friends, everyone said it was nonsense, that people with real problems don't have time to feel depressed."

  It's true, that's exactly what I said.

  I insist: Wouldn't an article or a blog help people to better cope with the illness and seek help? I'm not depressed myself, of course, and don't know how it feels. Could she tell me a bit about it?

  My friend hesitates, perhaps suspicious of my motives.

  "It's like being inside a trap. You know you're caught, but you can't escape ..."

  That's exactly what I felt a few days ago.

  She starts listing a whole series of things that are apparently common to those who have visited what she calls "hell." Not wanting to get out of bed. Feeling that the simplest of tasks requires a Herculean effort. Being riddled with guilt because you have no reason to feel like this when there are so many people in the world who are really suffering.

  I try to concentrate on the excellent food, but it has already started to lose its flavor. My friend goes on:

  "Apathy. Pretending to be happy, pretending to be sad, pretending to have an orgasm, pretending to be having fun, pretending that you've slept well, pretending that you're alive. Until there comes a point where you reach an imaginary red line and realize that if you cross it, there will be no turning back. Then you stop complaining, because complaining means that you are at least still battling something. You accept the vegetative state and try to conceal it from everyone. And that's hard work."

  And what caused your depression?

  "Nothing in particular. But why so many questions? Are you feeling depressed, too?"

  Of course not!

  Best to change the subject.

  We talk about the politician I'm going to interview in a couple days' time. He's an ex-boyfriend of mine from high school who probably doesn't even remember that we once exchanged a few kisses and that he touched my breasts.

  My friend is thrilled. I, on the other hand, try not to think about anything, keeping my reactions set to automatic.

  Apathy. I haven't yet reached that stage. I'm still at the complaining one, but I imagine that soon--in a matter of months, days, or hours--a complete lack of interest will set in that will be very hard to dispel.

  It feels like my soul is slowly leaving my body and heading off to an unknown place, some "safe" place where it doesn't have to put up with me and my night terrors. It's as if I weren't sitting in an ugly Japanese restaurant with delicious food, experiencing everything as though it were just a scene in a film I'm watching, without wanting--or being able--to stop it.

  I WAKE up and perform the usual rituals--brushing my teeth, getting dressed for work, going into the children's bedroom to wake them up, making breakfast for everyone, smiling, and saying how good life is. In every minute and gesture I feel a weight I can't identify, like an animal who can't quite understand how it got caught in the trap.

  My food has no taste. My smile, on the other hand, grows even wider so that no one will suspect, and I swallow my desire to cry. The light outside seems gray.

  Yesterday's conversation did no good at all; I'm starting to think that I'm headed out of the indignant phase and straight into apathy.

  And does no one notice?

  Of course not. After all, I'm the last person in the world to admit that I need help.

  This is my problem; the volcano has exploded and there's no way to put the lava back inside, p
lant some trees, mow the grass, and let the sheep out to graze.

  I don't deserve this. I've always tried to meet everyone's expectations. But now it's happened and I can't do anything about it except take medication. Perhaps today I'll come up with an excuse to write an article about psychiatry and social security (the newspaper loves that kind of thing) and find a good psychiatrist to ask for help. I know that's not ethical, but then not everything is.

  I don't have an obsession to occupy my mind--for example, dieting or being OCD and finding fault with the cleaning lady who arrives at eight in the morning and leaves at five in the afternoon, having washed and ironed the clothes, and tidied the house, and, sometimes, having even done the shopping, too. I can't vent my frustrations by trying to be Supermom, because my children would resent me for the rest of their lives.

  I go off to work and again see the neighbor polishing his car. Wasn't he doing that yesterday?

  Unable to resist, I go over and ask him why.

  "It wasn't quite perfect," he says, but only after having said "Good morning," asking about the family, and noticing what a pretty dress I'm wearing.

  I look at the car. It's an Audi--one of Geneva's nicknames is, after all, Audiland. It looks perfect, but he shows me one or two places where it isn't as shiny as it should be.

  I draw out the conversation and end up asking what he thinks people are looking for in life.

  "Oh, that's easy enough. Being able to pay their bills. Buying a house like yours or mine. Having a garden full of trees. Having your children or grandchildren over for Sunday lunch. Traveling the world once you've retired."

  Is that what people want from life? Is it really? There's something very wrong with this world, and it isn't just the wars going on in Asia or the Middle East.

  Before I go to the newspaper, I have to interview Jacob, my ex-boyfriend from high school. Not even that cheers me up. I really am losing interest in things.

  I LISTEN to facts about government policy that I didn't even want to know. I ask a few awkward questions, which he deftly dodges. He's a year younger than me, but he looks five years older. I keep this thought to myself.

  Of course, it's good to see him again, although he hasn't yet asked me what's happened in my life since we each went our own way after graduation. He's entirely focused on himself, his career, and his future, while I find myself staring foolishly back at the past as if I were still the adolescent who, despite the braces on my teeth, was the envy of all the other girls. After a while, I stop listening and go on autopilot. Always the same script, the same promises--reducing taxes, combating crime, keeping the French (the so-called cross-border workers who are taking jobs that Swiss workers could fill) out. Year after year, the issues are the same and the problems continue unresolved because no one really cares.

  After twenty minutes of conversation, I start to wonder if my lack of interest is due to my strange state of mind. No. There is nothing more tedious than interviewing politicians. It would have been better if I'd been sent to cover some crime or another. Murderers are much more real.

  Compared to representatives of the people anywhere else on the planet, ours are the least interesting and the most insipid. No one wants to know about their private lives. Only two things create a scandal here: corruption and drugs. Then it takes on gigantic proportions and gets wall-to-wall coverage because there's absolutely nothing else of interest in the newspapers.

  Does anyone care if they have lovers, go to brothels, or come out as gay? No. They continue doing what they were elected to do, and as long as they don't blow the national budget, we all live in peace.

  The president of the country changes every year (yes, every year) and is chosen not by the people, but by the Federal Council, a body comprising seven ministers who serve as Switzerland's collective head of state. Every time I walk past the museum, I see endless posters calling for more plebiscites.

  The Swiss love to make decisions--the color of our trash bags (black came out on top), the right (or not) to carry arms (Switzerland has one of the highest gun-ownership rates in the world), the number of minarets that can be built in the country (four), and whether or not to provide asylum for expatriates (I haven't kept pace with this one, but I imagine the law was approved and is already in force).

  "Excuse me, sir."

  We've been interrupted once already. He politely asks his assistant to postpone his next appointment. My newspaper is the most important in French-speaking Switzerland and this interview could prove crucial for the upcoming elections.

  He pretends to convince me and I pretend to believe him.

  Then I get up, thank him, and say that I have all the material I need.

  "You don't need anything else?"

  Of course I do, but it's not up to me to tell him what.

  "How about getting together after work?"

  I explain that I have to pick up my children from school, hoping that he sees the large gold wedding ring on my finger declaring: "Look, the past is the past."

  "Of course. Well, maybe we can have lunch someday."

  I agree. Easily deceived, I think: Who knows, maybe he does have something of importance to tell me, some state secret that will change the politics of the country and make the editor look at me with new eyes.

  He goes over to the door, locks it, then comes back and kisses me. I return his kiss, because it's been a long time. Jacob, whom I may have once loved, is now a family man, married to a professor. And I am a family woman, married to a man who, though he inherited his wealth, is extremely hardworking.

  I consider pushing him away and saying that we're not kids anymore, but I'm enjoying it. Not only did I discover a new Japanese restaurant, I'm having a bit of illicit fun as well. I've managed to break the rules and the world hasn't caved in on me. I haven't felt this happy in a long time.

  I feel better and better, braver, freer. Then I do something I've dreamed of doing since I was in school.

  Kneeling down, I unzip his fly and wrap my mouth around his penis. He grabs my hair and controls the rhythm of my head. He comes in less than a minute.

  "God, that was good."

  I say nothing. The fact is that it was far better for me than for him, since he came so quickly.

  SIN is followed by a fear of being caught.

  On the way to the office, I buy a toothbrush and some toothpaste. Every half an hour or so, I go to the toilet to check that there's nothing on my face or on my Versace shirt, intricately embroidered and perfect for hiding stains. I observe my work colleagues out of the corner of my eye, but no one has noticed (or at least none of the women, who have a special radar for these things).

  Why did that happen? It was as if someone else had taken over and propelled me into a situation that was purely mechanical and non-erotic. Did I want to prove to Jacob that I'm independent, free, my own woman? Did I do that in order to impress him or in an attempt to escape what my girlfriend called "hell"?

  Everything will continue as before. I'm not at any crossroads. I know where I'm going and hope that, with the passing of the years, I'll manage to change my family's ways so that we don't end up thinking there's anything special about washing the car. The really big changes happen over time, and time is something of which I have plenty.

  At least I hope so.

  When I get home, I try to look neither happy nor sad. The children notice at once.

  "You're acting funny today, Mom."

  I feel like saying: Yes, I did something I shouldn't have done and yet I don't feel the tiniest bit guilty, just afraid of being found out.

  My husband gets home and, as usual, he kisses me, asks what kind of day I've had and what we're having for supper. I give him the usual answers. If he doesn't notice anything different about the routine, he won't suspect that today I gave oral sex to a politician.

  Which, it should be said, gave me no physical pleasure at all. But now I'm mad with desire, needing a man, needing to be kissed, and needing to feel the pain and pleasu
re of a body on top of mine.

  When we go up to bed, I realize that I'm terribly aroused. I can't wait to make love with my husband, but I must keep calm; if I'm too eager, he'll suspect something is wrong.

  After I shower, I lie down beside him, take the tablet he's reading from his hands and put it on the bedside table. I begin stroking his chest, and he immediately becomes aroused. We make love as we haven't done in a long time. When I moan a little too loudly, he asks me to keep the noise down so as not to wake the children, but I tell him I don't want to, that I want to be able to express my feelings.

  I have multiple orgasms. God, I love this man! We end up sweaty and exhausted, and so I decide to take another shower. He comes in with me and playfully turns the showerhead on my clit. I ask him to stop, saying I'm too tired, that we need to sleep and he'll just get me all excited again.

  While we're drying each other off, I suggest going to a nightclub sometime--another attempt to change my routine at all costs. I think it's then that he suspects something has changed.


  I can't tomorrow, I have my yoga class.

  "Since you've brought it up, can I ask a direct question?"

  My heart stops. He goes on:

  "Why exactly do you go to yoga classes? You're such a calm, well-balanced person, and a woman who knows what she wants. Aren't you wasting your time?"

  My heart starts beating again. I don't answer. I simply smile and stroke his face.

  I collapse onto the bed, close my eyes, and, before I fall asleep, think: I must be having the kind of crisis that comes after ten years of marriage. It'll pass.

  Not everyone needs to feel happy all the time. Besides, no one can be happy all the time. I need to learn to deal with the reality of life.

  Dear Depression, please keep your distance. Don't be nasty. Find some other person with more reason than me to look in the mirror and say: "What a pointless existence." Whether you like it or not, I know how to defeat you. You're wasting your time.