The day my boyfriend cheated on me, I called to invite him to go to a winery. We were coming up on the end of our senior year of college and it was one of those beautiful days you only see in late April, before the sweltering heat of summer kicks in. Finals were not yet in full swing, and an afternoon spent wine tasting seemed like the perfect “almost adult” way to pass time before getting lost in the endless shuffle of research papers and presentations.
My boyfriend and I were, for a variety of reasons, more or less on the rocks at this point. I say more or less because it seemed like we were perpetually on the rocks for one reason or another. There were rumors about him and another girl, who he swore up and down was just a friend.
But then again, there were always rumors in our friend group. Everyone was always in everyone else’s business, and I both loved and hated it. I didn’t grow up with a traditional sibling relationship, something a part of me always yearned for, and I relished the feeling that I was part of a large family unit. However, when it came to the airing of dirty laundry that directly impacted me; the input and sheer gossip was suffocating.
On that day in particular, I called his phone and it went straight to voicemail. As a child of the technologically savvy generation, I was pretty familiar with the fact that calls going straight to voicemail meant one of three things- either someone’s phone was dead (doubtful), turned off (suspicious), or you were being “bitch buttoned.” To be clear, none of those were the best signs to me at this time.
Hours later, once our group of friends and I had already left for the winey, he texted me and said something along the lines of oh he was sorry, he’d been on the phone with his parents. I didn’t really buy it, but believing someone is always so much easier than not.
Almost a month passed. Finals began. I started applying for jobs.
Then one day, he left his phone near me while he went in a neighboring room. I told myself not to do it, that it was an invasion of privacy and I didn’t know what I was going to find in there. We were not the type of couple to share codes or passwords, but I’d seen him open the lock screen enough times that I guessed it correctly in under three tries.
A part of me was amazed at how easy it was to see all the things I was never supposed to see.
I’ve always been good at remembering.
So I pieced together a timeline and constructed a narrative based off the things I knew:
I knew that when my friends had texted me about the winery, he had been texting the girl to wait by the street, that he’d go out the back door so his roommate wouldn’t ask where he was going.
I knew that there were no incoming or outgoing calls to his parents on that date.
I knew my boyfriend was a liar.
But the latter I already knew. You don’t go looking for answers if you don’t have questions.
I confronted both of them together. We sat outside the campus Starbucks, exchanged pleasantries, and then I said I wanted to know exactly what happened. I always thought if thrown into this situation I would scream or throw something or just go off the walls bananas. But I just sat there.
I listened and didn’t cry.
Then I said my spiel: that I understood that infidelity happened, but that didn’t make it acceptable. That we may be young, but we were all adults here and they were both old enough to know right from wrong, and whether or not their actions could hurt someone else. That it was the epitome of selfish.
Then I asked if anyone had anything left they’d like to share with me. They didn’t. So I said I didn’t see any need to prolong the conversation further and got up and walked away.
I told my boyfriend that no matter what happened, we needed to put on a good face for graduation since our families were coming into town that Friday from out of state.
When my family got in, I had spent the day in final round interviews with six different people for a position at the arts organization that hired me exactly five days later.
I hadn’t eaten in a week.
I finally broke my fast that night at IHOP of all places. It was there that my dad told me he was getting me tickets to see Katy Perry for my graduation present. I wept and through my tears choked out that I had no idea what to wear, maybe I would dress up like a lollipop or a burrito. He and my mom rolled their eyes.
The next day was my college graduation, and it remains one of the best days of my life. One of my most wonderful friends in the entire world was the student speaker, and delivered a beautiful speech. My parents were so proud. The day was filled with laughter and friends, and tassels and cheeseburgers. It was truly a celebration.
He was there, of course. We took all the pictures and I did all the things I was supposed to do.
As we all broke away from the last group photo, he said “I love you” quietly to me and placed his arm over my waist. I instinctually stiffened. I said nothing back.
We were surrounded by people. His parents were talking to mine about something or nothing really at all. We both turned back and caught each other’s eyes.
He looked stricken and I knew he knew that I knew I didn’t love him anymore. I could never love him anymore. It was too hard and too awful, and scary and sad.
And although our relationship did not technically end there, when I look back and think about when it truly ended, I remember that moment.
I think of the look in his eyes and the sun on my face, the weight of my gown, the cap in my hand. The feeling of my sunglasses perched on my head.
I think of the small part of me that felt that something important had happened and changed.
But mostly I think about all the friends and family who surrounded me. Who were there and had always been there and would never leave. I think how lucky I was and still am.