“When the sins of our fathers visit us We do not have to play host. We can banish them with forgiveness. As God, in his Largeness and Laws” August Wilson, Fences
“Rose: I done tried to be everything a wife should be. Everything a wife could be. Been married eighteen years and go to live to see the day you tell me you been seeing another woman and done fathered a child by her. And you know that I ain’t never wanted no half nothing in my family. My whole family is half. Everybody got different fathers and mothers … my two sisters and my brother. Can’t hardly tell who’s who. Can’t never sit down and talk about papa and your mama and my papa and my mama.” August Wilson, Fences
Watching Fences, I was overcome with grief and heartbreak during Viola Davis’ performance and her character Rose’s response to finding out her husband of 18 years not only cheated on her but fathered another daughter. I am that daughter. I am the product of infidelity and an affair. Only they didn’t learn about me in utero but when I was 13 years old. The scene broke my heart. The discussion over having half-siblings and sitting at the table trying to differentiate whose mom was being spoken about was mortifying. I have been there with my half-siblings. My dad had two sons and a daughter before he met my mother who in turn had me and my brother—in secret.
If you run a search on Amazon for infidelity there are literally thousands of books to help you when you find out about infidelity, how to overcome it, etc. There is not a single book on being the product of infidelity, or the PTSD and trauma that one carries generationally and what it does to that person’s DNA and core values, or how it plays a role in their relationships as an adult. Nothing about the shame that they carry: the sins of our fathers. Our mothers. How can they not affect us? How, when our very existence is held in secrecy, coming in second. No child should have to bear these levels of abandonment at a very young age.
I remember a big fire in the kitchen of our house. My dad, my savior, the one I worshipped, could not extinguish it. My mother did. He instead held my brother and me outside of the window to breathe fresh air. I saw his humanity for the first time. His helplessness. My mom saved the day. He later left that night to go back to “work”. I knew he wasn’t my protector nor my savior at 5 years old. I also knew he had somewhere to be that was much more important than me and my brother nearly losing our lives. Coming in second.
My dad lived two separate lives for a very long time. It wasn’t until I was in my 20s that I got to know my half-siblings and we started spending time together. It was also at this time my father began to exhibit signs of early onset dementia. I’m convinced it was brought on early after seeing all 5 of his kids in the same room together.
I’m surrounded by infidelity and the aftermath: a coworker of mine, a new mother being served with divorce papers 3 weeks shy of giving birth to their second child, random strangers being amorous in the park, one with a ring and one without. I’m surrounded by it. It breaks my heart. There is no transparency. People are not showing their true colors. But I see them. I feel them. They carry the shame. I carry it too.
The level of shame I carry affects me to my core, to my DNA, even though it doesn’t involve me personally. I witness infidelity in different areas of my life and I feel so empathetic towards the couple that is experiencing it even though I’m not involved. Growing up knowing full well that I was conceived in a secret way is devastating: the shame I carry my whole life not knowing where I stand in my dad’s eyes. Always looking and seeking for existence was very difficult for me. It has affected my relationships in my adult years, including my marriage, divorce and current relationship. I’ve chosen to write about it now.
To be honest I have been having a really hard time writing this piece about infidelity and the shame it has inflicted on me personally. It seems to be the common thread in all my stories. I attempted to write about shame and infidelity last night, but my body ached and I became instantly grumpy and irritable. I couldn’t fall asleep. My mind kept racing as my partner lay next to me. He fell asleep without a care in the world. I wasn’t sure if the stress was more based on what I had written or his inability to recognize that I was having a full-fledged panic attack next to him as he slept soundly. I pay attention to my body and my gut. This story needs to be told. It needs to leave the cells in my body that creep up and are triggered every time I hear/read/see infidelity. In all forms. I become that little girl again.
No one talks about infidelity. It’s a running joke if you’re Puerto Rican that infidelity comes out at a funeral. When the deceased has a wife and a girlfriend appears by the casket. The chisme that comes from it. You have all seen it. It’s almost as if in this day and age it’s expected. Seeing a relationship or marriage not affected by some form of infidelity is rare. But then again who knows what goes on behind closed doors. I do know this: marriage is hard. It’s not all rainbows and butterflies. It’s like my dear writer friend says, marriage is like the stove. You have to cook, nurture and clean it every day or it will deteriorate. Marriage also shows us mirrors of ourselves whether we choose to see it or not.
Infidelity rocks our core, what we always have known to be true. Living a double life and the shame that it carries with it is pretty awful and devastating. I dreaded holidays since my dad always chose his first family first. To this day, the holidays give me great anxiety. I remember being young and wishing on Santa’s lap that dad was around for Christmas and would stay at our house every night. But he always left. It was difficult to fall asleep at night because I always thought that he didn’t love us enough. His presence was never enough. That hurt growing up. Feeling that someone was always more important than me and my young brother. There was never any level of security of family at home. This damaged my view of what a family unit was. I always made excuses when my mom never wore a ring or never took my dad’s last name. I was embarrassed as a child. And even when he finally moved in with us at 7 years old, his mind was always elsewhere. He was never present. My mom was never enough. He always had one foot out the door.
The day I discovered I was the “other” family, Papi said with mad love, “I have a name for you. Illegitimate.” At first, I was thrilled, but then realized I didn’t understand the meaning of the word. In his drunken stupor, he continued to inform me that I had an older sister. I was shocked and weirdly happy with innocence. What he failed to mention was she was much older and didn’t know I existed. He added that my sister was his “real” daughter through marriage. I was fucking devastated as I ran for the dictionary to look up the definition. To this day I despise the word.
When I got married I finally started to feel like I was chosen first. Every choice and thing we did was “legitimate.” Engagement, mortgage, wedding, then the birth of our son. Then my husband chose addiction over me and our son. Ended up second. Yet again. Even though I did everything “right” in the manner things are supposed to follow script-wise. After my divorce, I strove to be first in my relationships. But I always ended up feeling second best, which is an essay for another day.
Throughout my experiences in childhood, my marriage, and my current relationship, there is this level of shame and not being accepted that drives me up a wall. Never feeling enough. No one talks about the effects of infidelity when it comes to the children. There is a level of PTSD and trauma the children feel but never discuss. Especially Latinos–these topics are always taboo and never approached. I have tried to have the conversation with my mother, but she never gave me answers that satisfied me. She always said my father loved me more than life. But then why did he hide us for so long? He never let me feel seen. It was a long process to identify that during therapy. If anything I grew more frustrated talking to my mom and older siblings. I’ve grown to learn that I will never be able to find the answer I am looking for. They are just facts and what happened, and I’m left with having to address them by myself. I am carrying this by myself and will continue to do so. I’m concerned it will never be resolved.
I made the active decision to heal internally all the wounds my family, therapy and anything else externally could not aid in my journey. I started receiving reiki, the Japanese healing massage art for the past two years and it has been a blessing. I studied Reiki 1 and Reiki 2. I work with stones and their energies. I also became a gym rat, heading to the gym 5 to 6 times a week. I am a devout yogi with an active meditation practice. I became mindful of the foods I eat and try my best to do so with only home-cooked meals. I have lost over 20 pounds in the past year and it’s a reflection of where I am currently. I realize the shame will always live in my body, but I chose to honor it, write about it and heal on my own. It’s been a redemptive process and I’m grateful for the universe to open this world to me.
Shame from Infidelity. I carry shame all the time. In every memory and crevice of my mind. In all my childhood memories and now as an adult, infidelity and its effects and tolls have nearly destroyed me. My writing has helped a bit but just brings to the surface that I am not well. I believe I am consciously, but unconsciously I’m not. I need to write more. To stop carrying all this guilt and shame that has been debilitating. I choose self-love. I hear myself in Ibeyi’s song:
“I carried this for years
Carried this for years
Carried this for years
Carried this for years
I carried this for years
I carried this for years
I no longer choose to carry this. The white page will. This time I choose myself FIRST.
Sarah Gonzalez, a single mom through loss, a writer, and martial artist, works for a Federal Judge and has been a member of the Judiciary for 11 years. She is a 2017 VONA (Voices of Our Nations Arts) Fellow in Political Content, a repeat offender of Vanessa Martir’s Writing Our Lives, a member of Alicia Anabel Santos‘ Writing from the Womb and Sankofa Sisterhood Writers. She has a double Master’s in International Diplomacy and Relations; and Public Administration from St. John’s University where she served as an adjunct professor.